Monday, August 02, 2010

Thursday, November 19, 2009

the bondi tenner

So on Tuesday arvo I was mumbling around in Bondi, taking some old chap home with his shopping and his beer, when something blue blew along the road in front of the cab. What was that? my fare said. It looked like a ten dollar note, I replied. Go and get it! he said. Shall I? I said. Yeah, go on, mate, spin around the roundabout . . . Well I did, and it was, and it pleased both of us mightily. He got a discount on his fare and I got - ten bucks. I went around the block again, feeling dead lucky, and on the corner of Campbell Parade and Hall Street picked up a cheery couple maybe in their thirties. Going to Clovelly via Penkivil Street, which is a bit of an odd way to go but never mind. They asked me how my day was going so I told them about the tenner; they started laughing like drains. He, Kelvin, was a Kiwi and she, Kim, an Aussie. Not long together and full of love. And laughter. Along Penkivil Street they turned out to be looking for a car and, when they found it there, the story came out. Kim's ex, who left her for another woman eleven months ago, had the day before got the key to her flat from the real estate, gone around there while she was at work, and stripped the place of furniture and effects. Took everything. They'd called the cops but the cops said they couldn't do anything because his name was still on the lease. Why the real estate, who knew he didn't live there anymore, gave him the key is not known. Anyway, they were thinking of a little revenge. She, Kim, still has the spare key to her ex's car and that's what they were looking for in Penkivil Street. Their favoured strategy was to lift the mats and pour milk on the carpets and let it go sour: imagine the stench after the car had been parked twenty-four hours in the hot sun. You'd never get rid of it. I told them about the old sugar in the petrol tank trick, but that of course will ruin the engine. Potatoes in the exhaust, bananas in the transmission, the first of which is really just to give the guy a fright, and the second a means of disguising a problem when you're trying to sell a dodgy car. It was very funny and we had a lot of laughs as we chortled our way through Waverley and Bronte to Clovelly. When they got out Kim said, much as she'd like to, she didn't really think she could sugar his petrol tank; but the milk . . . yeah, maybe. She gave me a fifty and said to make it a twenty dollar fare, even though there was only thirteen or fourteen on the meter. I gave her a twenty and a ten in change; the ten, I told her, was the lucky one I found rolling down Sir Thomas Mitchell Road. Couldn't have gone to a nicer home.


Friday, October 23, 2009

we fall but we keep getting up

If you're out on the streets of the city at all hours, as I am, you see odd things, some unforgettable. I remember stopping one night about 2 am for a woman crying her eyes out in a gutter in Dulwich Hill. She didn't even register my presence. Another time I saw, in some dark street off the Princes Highway in Rockdale, what I am sure was a murdered man lying on his back on a concrete loading dock outside a warehouse building. That time I didn't stop but soon after passed the cops, sirens wailing, coming to attend to the scene of the crime. And now another one I won't ever be able to banish from my mind. It was maybe three-twenty on Monday afternoon, I was taking a Brazilian au pair and her precocious charge from his prep school in Bellevue Hill to the family home in Vaucluse when I saw, on a foreshore lawn in Rose Bay, in bright sunlight a street person falling as he tried to cross that wide verge into the shade of the fig trees beyond. Just the nondescript clothes gone khaki with age and dirt, the pale builder's smile blinking out the top of his pants and the helpless way he went backwards onto the sweet green grass: as if he would never rise again. All the sad debris he carried scattering as he went down. The Brazilian saw it too, we were conversing at the time, but although we both registered the moment, neither of us said anything about it. Maybe for the sake of the boy, I don't know.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Some days it is as if everyone is drunk - yesterday was one. Or maybe it's just because I tend to wait outside the Tea Gardens Hotel at Bondi Junction where, it seems, the entirety of the considerable Irish diaspora in the Eastern Suburbs goes to water its - their - collective whistle. One boyo I took to Kensington had started the day there at 7.30, drunk with his workmates until 10.30, gone off to pour a concrete slab for the extension of someone's house, then gone back to the pub for the rest of the afternoon: he told his girlfriend on the phone that he'd spent the day drinking beer and driving around in trucks. Another had a bigger story to tell. He was a handsome fellow wearing a blue shirt half undone and giddy-giddy gout over black trousers and boots and, even at a distance, I could see he was shickered. He got in, slurred the name of the street he wanted and then apologised for his drunken state. Y'see, he explained, I just got off being sent to jail for five years and I been celebrating. He lives in Birriga Road, Bellevue Hill where, a few months ago, work of some kind was being done on the margins of the street or the footpath; barriers were erected and parking restrictions in force for the two weeks the work would take. But it was all done in one, whereupon the municipal authority took the barriers away and the residents resumed leaving their cars outside their houses; but the parking restrictions remained. That second week the Grey Bombers swooped and made a mint for the Council. My fare came back from a bad day at work (all these Irish boys seem to be in construction) to find a fellow writing him out a ticket. He protested, to no avail: the parking officer wouldn't listen, told him he didn't give a shit. So my boyo hit him. Hard enough that the officer fell backwards into the street and struck the back of his head on the curb. This is quite a common cause of death in urban conflicts these days, so I guess these two were lucky that the officer, though badly messed up and still in hospital, didn't die. My fare hired an expensive lawyer (he owes seven grand) but, from his description of the hearing, that might have been unnecessary: he got up after the formal part of the proceedings was over, told the judge that he was guilty, was very very sorry and would for the rest of his life have on his conscience that he had badly hurt a fellow human being. He got a two year good behaviour bond . . . and the lawyer's bill. I told this story to another fellow, not drunk, with buck teeth, who was going down to the beach at Bondi, and he told me about a mate of his, a young boxer, who in Glebe one night punched a drunk who would not stop hassling his girlfriend. Same circumstance, the drunk fell backwards, hit his head - and died. The boxer, who was just 24 years old and not drunk at the time, got four years. He had no previous involvement with drugs, but in jail became a heroin addict and, after he got out, died of an overdose. I don't mind drunk people if they are polite: no complaints about the affable chap I picked up late afternoon in Crown Street, about my age and stinking of spirits, whom I took down to a big house in exclusive Robertson Road, Centenniel Park, where Patrick White used to live. A bit later, in The Rocks, where I never usually go, there was a tall young blond woman standing in the street talking on her mobile phone who hailed me and asked to be taken to Cammeray. She was drunk too and sat in the front seat loudly recounting to her friend that day's triumph: her first gig as a news-reader on radio JJJ. When she finished with that friend she rang another and told her the story too, with variations and digressions, including a startling analysis of a friend's marriage troubles. Anyway, once she had finished that second call, she surprised me by apologising for her rudeness and explaining how she was just so excited, she couldn't help herself . . . most people don't even realise, I told her. My last ride was a weird, sober coda to the night. I was trundling back to Rose Bay to end the shift when I saw a taxi broken down on the other side of Old South Head Road, just up from the turn-off to Curlewis Street. Two chubby girls in mini-skirts were lighting up fags and the young Indian driver was on his mobile. I went through the lights, did a U turn at the servo there, and back to see if I could help. The two girls were young pommies from the provinces, totally star struck with Sydney; they told me what happened. The driver had been barrelling up Blair Street towards the intersection and hadn't seen or else ignored the round-about there. He hit it front on at speed, the car flew, the girls' heads jolted up to strike the roof, the back right hand tyre on the station wagon burst with the impact . . . he seemed proud rather than ashamed of his exploit and as I accelerated up Old South Head, heading for the Wylde Bar at the Cross, I saw him start to drive his crippled car, stupidly if slowly, up the hill after me.


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

last & first ride

She's Oirish, walks with a frame, has big blue eyes and soft warm hands, is 91 years old and begins working on me the moment she gets in the cab. You're lovely fellah, she says with her hand resting upon mine, which is itself resting upon the gearstick. All you fellahs are lovely fellahs ... so kind to a poor auld woman such as meself ... This goes on for a while and then the pitch comes in: Why don't you turn the meter off, darlin', all the drivers do, it's only six dollars to where I'm goin' ... This is of course an outright lie, which she knows and I know and she knows I know. From the Junction down to Bondi Beach, especially at that time of day, when the schools are coming out, is ten at the least and more likely fifteen. I make my case and leave the meter running; she blithely changes the subject and begins instead to tell me about her life in Dublin, where she lived until she was 75, and her family in Australia and anything else that comes to mind. I do not expect to find myself and herself singin' In Dublin's fair city / where the girls are so pretty ... but that is in fact what happens. Soon enough we pull up outside the chemist just up from the old Astra Hotel, now apartments, where she lives and there's 14.75 on the meter. She takes out a miniscule purse and has a momentary (staged) panic that her money has all gone ... but really what she has is a ten and a five dollar note nestled among the receipts and scrips. Can you not give a discount to a poor auld woman? she wheedles and I can't help myself, I say ten. Orrghh, make it eight, won't you darlin'? she says and I do, I do! Give her two bucks. Scarcely believing my own foolishness. I get her frame out of the back seat, get her out of the front, prop her up on it and she tacks chortling away. I carry on, thinking that, though I'm marginally out of pocket, this way both of us feel good whereas the other way ... would be bad both ways. And maybe I'll have a lucky day ... I do. Eight hours and about $400.00 later I'm powering up Oxford Street on my way back to Rose Bay determined, this time, as I have three times previous, not to stop for that one last fare when two girls, waving frantically, come skittering onto the road from behind the back end of a bus and as I brake one of them spills her mobile phone, an i-phone or a palm pilot by the look of it, almost under the left front wheel of the cab, forcing me to brake harder. They get in. Going to Milsons Point. A blonde and a brunette, both young (20s), both shickered: the heady smell of spiritous fumes in the cab is so strong it makes me feel a little high. Brunette, who dropped the phone, gives it back to Blonde, assuring her it is unbroken. Then she asks me: Do you smoke? I say no and she swears, loud and long and startlingly explicit. A bit later she leans over from the back seat to show me something. I don't really see what it is but gather from what she says that it's a vibrator or perhaps the case of a vibrator. They both have one but it isn't clear exactly where they have them ... there's a bit of chat about battery strength and a few lewd double entendres; they're meeting a couple of lads at Milsons Point railway station and then, who knows. Lots of raucous laughter. You're a really cool taxi driver, says Brunette. And you're Australian. I tell her where I'm actually from and she tells me that her Dad was from Wellington and that the family lived for a while in Takaka. So it goes and soon we're over the bridge and heading down the hill towards Luna Park. I pull up near the railway station and Blonde starts to pay with her credit card ... twenty something dollars. While we're doing the business Brunette starts having a truly horrendous coughing fit, sounding like a 60 year old emphysemic not a babe of 22. When she recovers I say: That's a bad smoker's cough and she comes straight back with: That's not a smoker's cough, that's a frustrated person with a dildo up her arse. I look at her in true astonishment and she smiles back, louche, sultry and also very aware of how sexy she looks. I look over once more after I've done a U turn and am about to head off back up the hill. They are leaning in confab together against a low wall, heads bent, laughing like drains ...


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

sick sick

If you hang around the Bondi Junction rank, as I do, you run the risk of picking up people who are so old and ill they're almost a medical emergency in themselves - albeit one that only wants to go home. One afternoon last week I come around the corner to find the rank - unbelievable! - empty but as I roar up to the front my heart sinks. There's a young woman wearing the uniform of a shop assistant (chemist, probably) standing there supporting an old one with white hair and a stick. Well, nothing for it but to be nice. I lean over and open the door, take the walking stick, while the chemist shop girl eases the old girl into her seat. Can you take her? she asks anxiously, her eyes searching mine. She's got money. I realise she's probably done this before and at least part of the relief of her anxiety involves successfully off-loading the problem onto someone else. Yes, I say. Of course. She hands me an address scrawled on a piece of paper. This is where she's going. I glance at it - Bondi. Not far. Can she talk? I ask, but the chemist shop girl is already closing the door. We're just through the lights when she shows that she can. I feel strange, she quavers. There's something wrong with me. I'm so cold. She has vivid blue eyes and, when she lays one hand upon mine, which is resting on the gearstick, it is as cold as ice. Where are you from? she goes on. Will you take me home? I have money. I tell her yes, I will, and where I'm from and then ask her the same question. Sweden, she replies, with a slight drawing up of her body and some pride in her voice; and I see she would once have been a beauty of that imperious Nordic kind. Then the quaver returns: There's something wrong with me ... and so it goes until, as we near her place, somehow her incapacity recedes and she shows herself quite capable of giving precise directions. Once outside the block of units where she lives (alone, she has told me several times) her helplessness returns and grows. She cannot pay but simply hands me her purse, which has about $80.00 in it. I resist temptation and carefully take out a 20 and put back a 5 - it's a 15 buck ride. Evidently she cannot now walk, will not take her stick, but grasps my hands with both of hers and insists I take her up to her flat. This is just what I don't want to happen but ... well ... I guide her to the fence and install her there while I park, turn off the motor, lock the car. We stumble sideways, inchwise, up the path to her entrance and then I see there is a security door. And she can't find her key. I'm not a patient person at the best of times and now I start to lose it. I ring the other bells, 1, 2, 3 until someone answers, and begin to explain the situation. Suddenly I hear this completely different voice, harsh and authoritative, behind me: I don't need help from anybody! The kind neighbour buzzes open the door at the same moment as Greta Garbo finds her key. I can tell from the look on her face that she knows she's made a tactical error and that I will never take her up to her apartment now; but she makes one more attempt to wheedle me inside. When that fails she draws herself up again proudly and, without deigning to use her stick at all, walks off up the hallway towards the lift, or maybe even the stairs.

Increasingly though I've taken to avoiding that rank in favour of the one outside the Tea Gardens Hotel just up the street on the same side. For some reason you wait a shorter time there and also pick up a different kind of fare - less of the shoppers taking their supermarket bags down to Bondi or Tamarama, more of the day trippers returning to homes in distant suburbs. She's one of those, a dignified old woman, beautiful, with tinted glasses perched on a great hooked nose, dark skin and a surprisingly intimate manner. I'm going to Ramsgate, she says. Do you know where that is? I do, but I'm less certain of the way when she says: Can we go by the sea? I want to look at the sea. This plea, for that is what it is, is delivered with a shrug and a certain air of - what? Insouciance? She doesn't think I'll know the way and she can't remember it herself. But her desire to see the sea is a constant and recurs all the long journey until at last we are on The Grand Parade at Brighton Le Sands and the flat blue waters of Botany Bay recede from us into the east. Then she looks out and falls silent. She is Armenian, with Romanian and German forebears on her mother's side; but French speaking and from Egypt, where she lived until we got fed up with the wars and came here. Perhaps it was a mistake. Her children are all grown up; her husband had a bad car accident two years ago and lost a leg, necessitating a move to the house where they live, not by the sea, which she clearly does not like. And now she herself is, as she puts it, not just sick but sick sick; on her way back from visiting one of her doctors: I have many doctors, you see. There is something about her, in her dignity and her beauty and her elegant forbearance, that makes me want to weep; and this feeling grows as we carry on talking about this and that, driving through clotted traffic towards a great bloody sunset over the western plains. She soon picks up that I write and extracts from me my name, which she repeats several times, filing it away in her memory. When I say there might have been Spanish blood on my father's side, because he was dark in that Cornish way, she says that the true Spanish were blond haired and blue eyed and the darkness came from the Moors. Who had certainly visited Ireland and perhaps Cornwall too. And that the original Turks were like that also, until the Arab conquests. And, further, that there was peace between the three religions of the East (she doesn't count Buddhism or any of those, she means Jews, Christians and Muslims) until the influx of European and especially German Jews, with their snobbism, changed everything. They disliked the real Jews, you know, she says. They wouldn't even say they were Jews. They called them Arabs. Plus this: religion is a private thing, it is between you and whoever you think god is. We leave the sea at Ramsgate Beach and she directs me through a maze of apartment buildings back of the strand, then behind a sports ground to a row of nouveau brick houses facing west towards a dark line of she-oaks and paperbark trees - probably a remnant of the lagoon that would once have stood here. You see, she says resignedly, while we reverse back towards a completely undistinguished single story brick bungalow surrounded with bare concrete that she didn't recognise the first time we passed. As she pays me (cash, $56.00) and I write her a receipt, I notice a ring on her right hand with a large purple-red stone, and remark upon it. She looks briefly at it: It's nothing special, she says. A tourmaline. But I like it. I leave her standing precariously, leaning on her stick, looking at that graceless, anonymous house as if at her own tomb.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ping and the Ponce

On Monday arvo Peter, the day driver, is late ... I hate this but am trying to control my tendency towards impatience and irritation. When he finally turns up - he's been shopping - I skip the usual leisurely cruise down to Bondi to look at the sea and go instead straight up the Junction. Just before pulling round the corner and onto the rank I see a dapper chap there lighting up a cigarette. He raises his hand and walks quickly towards me, taking two or three deep drags on his fag then throwing it down and climbing in the front. Chinatown, he says and takes out his mobile phone. He's maybe 60, grey-haired, a small, cocky fellow wearing immaculate clothes of an old-fashioned kind: a pink striped shirt, a waistcoat, grey trousers, a sports jacket, leather shoes. A ponce from another era. He has the wheeze of an incipient emphysemic as he rasps into the phone: Get me Ping. Various instructions to do with banking matters follow, delivered in a brusque, even imperious tone. Then he hangs up and calls a mate. You'll never guess who I just saw ... he begins. Your old boss! The story that ensues is one of marital wreck following upon a recently contracted liaison. He built her a mansion in Little Bay but now that everything has gone to hell it's all up for grabs. The pre-nupt. apparently won't stand up in court and anyway, matters soured long before: the day after the wedding she said to him that she was going to have his balls for breakfast. All this is relayed with reeking schadenfreude; then at the end he says: Oh, and by the way, he's still looking to buy a pub. Yeah, 800 ... He hangs up from his mate and calls Ping again to say give that bloke two grand in cash if he's still worried about the cheque clearing. She must have somehow demurred because what follows is a truly vicious explosion of phone rage: I don't fucking know, I'm stuck in fucking traffic, could be half an hour, could be five fucking minutes ... We are not stuck in traffic and never have been; it's a smooth run the whole way. He calms down a bit, repeats the instruction about the two grand then cuts the connection. I let him out on the corner of Sussex and Goulburn, opposite the Star Hotel, and while waiting for the lights to change, watch to see which way he goes ... down Goulburn, across the road, and into that vaguely pagoda shaped stumpy high rise on the corner of Dixon. A little strutting cockerel of man, some kind of shady character, with his money in gambling perhaps, or prostitution, or even, though I think this unlikely, drugs. As for Ping, I have no idea.


Wednesday, August 05, 2009


... so Monday was a cruise: I'd accumulated exactly $110.00 worth of dockets, credit card receipts etc., meaning that the shift cost me only the price of a tank of gas ($15.00) and I could keep the rest of the takings for myself. I went out hoping to get as many cash fares as I could and that's how it worked out ... only one person all night paid with a card. It is of course not possible absolutely to determine something like this, but if you avoid the ranks at the big end of town and don't stop for anyone wearing a suit, well, maybe. About 9 pm there's always a lull, I'm up the Junction with nothing going on when suddenly I remember there's a game on at the Sydney Football Stadium that might be ending right about now. Off I scoot down Moore Park Road and the timing's perfect, they're all just starting to spill from the gates. I get hailed immediately and, luck happens, the two blokes are, respectively, a Manly and a Wests Tigers fan. A Fibro and a Silvertail. Manly gets in the front, looking gloomy, and Wests (chipper) in the back; it went 19-18 to the Tigers. Don't look so surprised ... Wests in the back chides me when I react - I live in Summer Hill, which is more or less heartland Wests, but have a soft spot for Manly and thought the game would probably go their way. Not that I really care, it's just an interest of mine. Anyhow. These two blokes are going over the northside, one to Neutral Bay, the other to Manly, and they're like a well-rehearsed comedy routine, with Manly the straight guy and Wests the joker. Are you allowed to wear beanies on the North Shore? he asks. No. What about a bloke in a Wests Tigers jersey (he is) that has a missing tooth (he does)? Are they gonna beat up on me? Yes ... They're so dry that it's amusing for a while in a low key sort of way but soon gets tiresome and I don't really mind when they decide they'll both hop out at The Oaks on Military Road to have a few more drinks. I think I'll call it a night now, but as I'm steaming up Oxford Street intending to take a right into Flinders and on to Randwick to fill up with gas, I get hailed by a fellow outside the Oxford Hotel on the corner there. A ride's a ride and he isn't wearing a suit so I pull over. He's a tall, dishevelled looking bloke with facial hair, quite young, and as he folds himself into the front seat says he wants to go to Double Bay. I see that he's got an i-phone or a palm pilot, maybe a Blackberry, in his hand but don't think any more about it until I hear him say: You're angry with me, aren't you? I nearly jump out of my seat and am about to deny it when I realise he's actually talking into his phone, which is jammed to his other ear, the one I can't see. Then he starts making hand signals at me, that I don't understand, until I figure out that he's telling lies to his wife and doesn't want me to contradict him ... not that I would or could but it's something to do with how soon he'll be home and where we are so, at a very long stretch, that might involve me somehow. Naturally I eavesdrop on the rest of the conversation and am rewarded by hearing him tell her that a guy the Agency (advertising I think) hired only the other day has just been fired because, get this, he has a history OE of stalking super models and the like, people whom he's supposed to be acting for, there are court cases heading his way, they can't have someone like him on board ... so far so good, he gets off the phone eventually and explains again about the lies, he told her we were already in Double Bay when we're hardly out of Rushcutters. The distances and times involved are so small that I think that maybe, like some people I have known, lying is a habit with him that he simply can't help indulging. Then he makes another call: Mate, did something happen with Helen today? he begins. Yeah I think it might be a question of finances. I've been in a meeting for the last two hours and haven't had a chance to talk to her yet but I will, mate, later tonight, and get the full story and call you back ... Dude, for my part, Buddy, you were right on the money, the way you handled the talent, the actresses, you've got the right approach, I'd have you on my team any day, you were awesome, just awesome, so cool, Dude, right on the money ... it is of course the guy who's been fired that he's talking to and he goes on OTT like this the rest of the way to Double Bay. In fact he's still talking when he gets out of the cab opposite the Golden Sheaf, having shuffled me a 20 and a couple of gold coins and accepted a 10 in change. While I head up New South Head to the turn off to Bellevue Road and climb the dark, twisting road, past the somnolent houses of the rich, some of which are no doubt built on lies, while Skip McDonald croons ... these are demon days / can't you see / it's a time of chaos, rage and anxiety ... up to the Junction and on to The Spot in Randwick to fill up and then head home.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

strange rides

Strange Ride One

I'm taking a Korean English language student to the Botany shops ... only in Oz two months, he speaks grammatically but laboriously, with a heavy accent, as we practise conversation all the way down Botany Road. I really need to pee so, after letting him out, do an illegal U turn and go up to the end of the block where there's a pub on the corner. Another cab has just picked up outside and, as I slide into the bus stop, I see an old gent apparently leaning against the pole there. He raises his hand and then, bereft of the support of the pole, gives a slight stagger. Uh oh, I think, he's pissed. Never mind. He's dapper and well-spoken and smells of sweet wine - port perhaps, or sherry. Sporting a black eye that looks maybe two or three days old. Take me to Taylor Square, he enunciates carefully. I think for a moment - and for several other moments during the ride - that he might put his hand on my knee, but he does not. Instead we speak of trivialities, cars and roads, the glare of the early morning sun over Southern Cross Drive as a traffic hazard, the perfidy of governments, as I sweep him up towards what I'm sure, by the time we part, is a hoped-for rendezvous with some as yet nameless and unknown young man whom he will find on Oxford Street. Several times, incongruously, he interpolates swearwords into his otherwise decorous sentences, as if thereby laying claim to a kind of credibility he might otherwise lack; but it just sounds odd. There's a convenient red light at the junction of Flinders and Oxford Streets, he extracts from his wallet a couple of notes, a 20 and a 10, and gives them to me before lurching off happily towards the Courthouse Hotel, where I trust he will find what he is looking for ... and not another shiner.

Strange Ride Two

I've just taken two girls all the way out to Hammondville, by the Holsworthy Military Base near Liverpool ($80.00) and I'm making my long weary way back to town. On Canterbury Road I get a call on my mobile and while we're talking another vacant cab overtakes me and then picks up the hail I'd almost sensed was waiting somewhere up ahead for me. This pisses me off but not for long. The next ride always banishes the disappointment of a missed opportunity and outside the Enmore Theatre a couple is waiting ... rock 'n' rollers, she's a bit Goth, with piercings, and he looks like a refugee from the 1980s, leather jacket, long hair swept back, some kind of hat? She gets in the back and he in the front and says: Take the next left. Station Street? I ask to be sure, because that's a grim little deserted street with nothing much down it. Yes, he says, we're going to Leichhardt. And mentions a street name I don't catch. But I do remember there's a shortcut, a rat run as they're known, down this way. Well, he calls every turn. Every turn! With his winey breath and a sense of ... what, exactly? Satisfaction? Pride might say it better. There's no other conversation but as we cross Parramatta Road he hands her in the back what looks like a packet and she takes it and starts doing something with it. The fare's 10, which brings an exclamation of pleasure from him - he probably does this ride a lot and likes to keep it under a tenner. Anyway, what she in the back was doing is filling out one of those yellow vouchers from a book that people with a disability get - they only pay half the fare, the government pays the rest. She hands the form over to him, and a pen, then he puts it right up to his face and scribbles hectically across the space where the signature goes. I'm tired, I'm a bit slow, it's not until she's got the door open and is helping him out that I realise what it is: he's blind. And he called every turn.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

It's like a jungle sometimes ...

It’s about five p.m. on a Tuesday and I'm trying to squeeze onto the back of the Park Street rank in the City when a grey bomber spots me and starts waving her pad so I scarper, quick smart, hoping against hope that she didn't get my number. That's a $188 fine if she did. I go uptown instead, at least an hour earlier than I normally would, and that's how long it takes to get another fare. Sitting on the (illegal) rank outside the Deutsche Bank building, watching rush hour traffic coalesce then dissolve around me, I listen to the whole of Massive Attack's first album, Blue Lines. It's pretty boring, or would have been if the music hadn't sounded so good: But if you hurt what's mine / I'll sure as hell retaliate … You can free the world / You can free my mind / Just as long as my baby's safe from harm tonight ... When I do get a ride, it begins a roll that lasts the rest of the night and I make more than enough to pay the fine, should I be fined. It's music that keeps me sane out there and I'm starting to enjoy programming the night ahead. Some things work and others don't and that's interesting in itself. The fare from Deutsche Bank is a guy who's recently had a baby, the kid’s been ill, and he’s on the phone to his mother telling her in great detail how tough things are for his wife and himself (mostly for himself); but I’m listening with only half an ear because the other one and a half are engaged with a cd M picked up at the Adamstown Markets recently: Beyond Elysian Fields by Hugh Cornwell, who used to be the lead singer in The Stranglers. The record was made in New Orleans and there’s a song on it called The Story of Harry Power that I know I want to hear again: Harry Power is the guy who initiated Ned Kelly into the modus operandi of bushranging. It might even have been, though Hugh doesn’t think so, a young Ned who dobbed Harry in, which gives a new twist to the old outlaw tale. If an album sounds good on the night, and this one does, I generally let it run through twice; but by the time I pick up in Erskineville, three musos heading to the airport and back to Melbourne after a Sydney gig, I’m listening to one of my staples, Little Axe—the dub version of Slow Fuse, with the LOUD button on so the bass vibrates the shell of the cab. Little Axe is Skip McDonald, a guitarist and bluesman from Dayton, Ohio, who had a pretty good career in the States (he was, with percussionist Keith Le Blanc and bass player Doug Wimblish, in the house band at Sugar Hill Records and all three play on Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five's fabulous 1982 track The Message) before he moved to England and teamed up with Adrian Sherwood and Gary Clail and the On-U Sound System. With Le Blanc and Wimblish, he formed Tackhead; his Little Axe records started coming out in the mid-nineties and I now have four of the five ... just need to find a copy of Champagne & Grits somewhere. Anyway, after dropping off the musos at the airport I'm coming back up O'Riordan Street when, at a set of lights in the desolation of the warehouse district, a young woman hails me from the other side of the road. She's unusual looking, with a thin face and a big nose and very full lips—beautiful rather than pretty—and all dolled up with bags and packages too. At first I think Indian but then I don't know; and when she gets into the front seat and says she wants to go to Edgecliff Station, I don't look at her again. It's instinct—some people don't want to be looked at. I can smell her though: perfume and tobacco and perhaps a hint of some kind of alcohol. She starts rummaging and then does some texting and then some more rummaging, sipping now and again from a bottle of orange juice that might be laced with vodka or the like; but I don't pay much attention, I just turn up the music and start driving really fast through the dark and empty night time streets of Alexandria and Zetland and Waterloo while Little Axe soulfully mourn ... too late … too late will be your cry … It isn't till we're nearly at Edgecliff Station that she tells me that she's meeting a friend there and the friend's the one who'll be paying her fare. This is not a good thing to hear and it starts sounding worse when she calls her friend and her friend is somewhere else. The Royal Oak in Double Bay ... she says to me then cuts the connection before I can get her to ask her friend what street that is in. So I ask her ... I don't fucken know … she snaps. The Royal Oak in Double Bay. How hard can it be? I'm not so much upset at being sworn at as I am amazed: she's Aboriginal. And I hadn't picked it. And anyway there's no rancour in it, she's stressed but not because of anything I’ve done and ... that's just how she talks. She's rolling a cigarette as we go on down the hill to Double Bay and start searching the square of streets at the back of the main drag. She's not exactly apologetic but I can tell she's trying to make amends, speaking a bit more softly though no less vehemently: It's not fucken down here, it must be back up the other fucken way. You know, that pub where they all sit outside. We find it after not very long and she calls her friend again. Nothing happens for a while so, on her advice, I move the car into the quieter street running down the side of the pub towards the sea and it's while I'm doing this that she says: Here he is ... The guy crossing the road towards us is at least twice her age, i.e. in his 40s, wearing a knitted pale green jersey and faded blue jeans; I didn't get what he had on his feet. He's white and probably some kind of petty crim, though I couldn't say exactly what kind. Soon as she sees him coming she gets out of the car but leaves the door open. It’s alright, I got money … I hear him say but all I see are his hands and his midriff, the neat little dark green cotton darns in the paler green wool of his jersey, his small, tight, pot belly, as he pulls a large number of flattened, randomly folded, unsorted banknotes out of his jeans pocket and starts going through them. Fifties, twenties, tens, quite lot of money to have on you. Well, that's alright, once you see money you know you're going to get paid. How much? he asks and I tell him there’s $24.55 on the meter. He fillets a twenty and a five from the stash and hands them over. Nobody says thanks or goodbye or anything like that but, as they walk across the road towards the back bar of the Royal Oak, and I'm turning the car around, I can hear her going off at him ... fucken this and fucken that ... and him going off the same way, only not as loud, back at her. When they get to the door he's a little ahead and opens it as if to go in first; but thinks better of it and stops to let her through before him: just for a moment it looks as if she's going to refuse; then, with a little toss of her head, she goes in, and he does, and that's it. I head off towards the City wondering if it's sex or drugs; and after not very long decide most probably both. Maybe he’s her pimp and she’s done a trick that didn’t work out; or maybe he’s summoned her in to work and she didn’t want to go. Or maybe they’re just boyfriend and girlfriend after all though somehow I doubt it … one of my favourite tracks on the album, Judgement, is playing now so I turn it up and as I climb the hill to Edgecliff and go down the other side to Rushcutters Bay then up again into the tunnel under the Cross, I forget all about them and lose myself in the music … When we see his judgement come again / Ain’t no water to set to sail again … When we see his judgement fall on man / Only fire can cleanse the earth again … ain’t no water … only fire …


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

small dreams

Aaaawwwww ... crap! Back on the job. First fare is three Oirish lads whom I pick up at Bondi Beach and take into the City. They look like they've stepped out of a Beano comic, all crooked teeth and lumpy hair but they're sweet, they pay and go. Next fare is another Oirish boyo, a bit of a charmer, who says he's left his wallet at home and wants me to take him back to get it. I buy his story and take him, but he doesn't buy the ride ... a runner. I won't forget his jaunty walk as he pissed off, still talking on his phone to his girlfriend about a plan to sing Christmas songs in the street for money. The rest of the night is shit and I decide that's it, I won't ever do this again. But the car's new, probably the best I've ever driven, and it has a CD player, so I front up again the next afternoon with a few of my fave CDs and have one of those dreamy nights that cabbies (small dreamers) dream of. Nice people pay me and we talk as I drive them where they want to go listening to music that I love in a car that's (small dreams), relatively anyway, lux.

I have forgotten how you only ever get the middle of stories, never the beginning, never the end. That you meet characters but do not read the script. What will happen to the petite blonde nurse who laid her pale cold hand on my hot one, resting on the gear lever, and said her ex was a wally? Her frilly umbrella reminded me of Mary Poppins' and when she got out in Stanmore to collect her five year old daughter from After School Care she said, unprompted, that she might use it to fly away ... like Mary Poppins! I wish her pure uplift when she moves to Cessnock six months from now.

What about the Kiwi joker I take to the airport to catch a flight to Melbourne so he can have his cancerous prostate removed? We have both, in another life, been at the same rugby game: 1961, Athletic Park, Wellington, when the French played the All Blacks for the very first time, in a howling southerly, and the result was 5 - 3. Kel Tremain scored the winning try feet away from where my Dad and I sat on cold benches in front of the swaying Millard Stand. The joker with the dodgy gland was six and I was nine. He, a corporate high-flyer, says he's 54, he's single, he's had the time of his life every day of his life. I haven't been sitting on the sidelines with the oranges. I've been out in the middle, mixing it up with the big boys. His talk is all bravado and he does not seem to know that, with each sentence, he is constructing an obituary.

Or the dreadlocked, out-of-girl I pick up outside a pub in Charing Cross. I don't like men, she enunciates carefully through foam-flecked lips. They want to touch my body and I don't like that. Take me somewhere where there's dancing. I'll give you money. Dancing? In Bronte near midnight on a Monday? I take her up to the Bondi Junction shops and try to let her out there. She won't go. I do a uee and make the same offer on the other side of the street. No, she says. This is a horrible place. My shift is ending, I should do more but I'm weary and there's another cab parked in front waiting for a fare. Perhaps ... ? Otherwise, the police station. You awful man, she shrieks. I'll never speak to you again! I don't ask for the fare but, later, find a $2 coin on the back seat and the longest, thickest false fingernail I've ever seen lying broken on the floor.

Outside the Colonial Centre, 52 Martin Place (tho' we're actually in Phillip Street) I get talking to another cabbie. His name is Zaheer and he is a poet. I've briefly met a friend of his, the writer and journalist Mohammed Hanif, recently at the Auckland Festival. Their wives are from the same part of Pakistan. Zaheer writes in Urdu and Punjabi, he also speaks Arabic and is learning Persian. Publishes in magazines in India and Pakistan. An inheritor of an old tradition. Mindful of that too. He is resisting pressure from friends to make a collection, he feels he isn't established enough yet.

This turns out not to be because he is doubtful of his writing but because he has to work his way out of a financial crisis ... he was detained by Australian immigration authorities a few years ago and sent to a detention centre (Villawood). Then he was deported, and it took him two more years to get another visa into Australia. He ascribes this calamity to the dodgy advice of a migration agent, which I can well believe. The upshot is, he has a major debt to pay - I think the sum was $15,000. How you do that on a cabbie's meagre wage? Nor do I discover exactly who he owes it too. However, another legacy of the Howard government's malignant reign is that so-called asylum seekers must pay the costs of their own detention, so perhaps that's the reason. There's a bill before Parliament right now that seeks to overturn that Kafkaesque rule.

Zaheer's poetry has not yet been translated into English, probably because he has not found anyone to do it for him. Poetry in Urdu and Punjabi is, I gather, highly formalised so it probably isn't an easy task. I am telling Zaheer that there must by a university in Australia where the languages are taught when we are interrupted by a very tall, extremely elegant, young black Englishman in a suit exiting the building and coming towards my cab. I neglect to get Zaheer's address, or to give him mine. I trust that we will meet each other again some other day. He is a modest man, unassuming, without bitterness and also without fear. He tells me a line of a poem he is yet to write, about two rivers in his country, one a river of lovers, the other of poets. Their confluence. Small dreams, bigger than the world.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

wrong side of the tracks

Where I live is bisected by the railway line, the Great Western, that goes all the way to Perth. Some days I see the Indian Pacific pulling through Summer Hill station at about 3 pm - a long silver train that might have a truck or two of new cars or tractors behind the eight or ten passenger carriages. Naturally I always want to jump on it but it doesn't stop here and anyway I don't have a ticket. It's probably cheaper to fly. Certainly faster. My trips are more local. Today was good. I went out in the misty rain at a few minutes after eleven and bought a Croydon return for $3.60. Actually I got off at Ashfield, to return some library books - 4 Asterix, 1 Alexander the Great, 1 Paraguay. I always scan the new books rack for interesting titles but today, nada. As I was going out a woman behind the desk hailed me. That was unusual, librarians usually only do that if you're breaking some rule; but she wanted to talk about my umbrella. It's a 'pard umbrella and she's a 'pard fanatic. Even has 'pard candles. I couldn't really imagine what leopard skin candles are like but there you are: the rich tapestry of the quotidian. I was actually on my way to buy a Bible, which was exciting in itself. The New Testament in the New English Bible version. I'd found it Monday ($9.00) in a 2nd hand shop in Croydon called AB Books but had asked the guy to hang on to it while I investigated the possibility of an Old or a volume that included both. The Old, found on the internet, arrived by courier this morning so naturally I was keen to get the New. It wasn't until I got home that I realised that neither includes the Apocrypha, which I may have to get next in a separate volume, I don't know. I've wanted to own the New English Bible for quite a while now, because that's the version that Colin McCahon used for most of his text paintings from about 1969 onwards. His wife Anne gave him a copy. There's two second hand bookshops down there, just past the Ashfield pool where I swim, and I'm always likely to visit one or both while the endorphins are still percolating through my system. I bought the New off the old English hippie guy, said hello to his wife who might be stroke-impaired, but didn't stop in at the bookbinders ... he is an American but for some reason I always think he's Dutch and last time I was in there he had an assistant wearing a yarmulke so there must be a Jewish connection. He, the American, came out here in the 1960s or perhaps 1970s with a whole collection of contemporary American poetry, some of which is still on his shelves - he was a Charles Olson fan; perhaps he'd lived in Worcester. Anyway I kept on walking up to the shops on the wrong side of the tracks at Croydon which are an enduring fascination. There are all sorts of strange fly-by-night businesses here in the shadow of the Presbyterian Lady's College . . . an art gallery that has exhibitions on the wall but is never open ... some artist's studio across the road with street windows you can look into to see the works in progress ... a school teaching make-up for film and TV ... various disreputable looking lawyers and accountants offices ... an old-fashioned watch-makers that is also never open ... a place painted shocking pink where they make cakes but not for sale to the public ... some kind of Greek hall from 1915 that still operates but as what? This is Edwin Street where an epochal battle took place a little while ago as a brothel at #93 sought legality and was bitterly opposed by local residents and businesses. Far as I know it still operates, without the appurtenances of legality but with the stunning publicity the case gave them. Round the corner is, to my mind, the strangest building of all: a classic old deco brick pub from the 1930s that has been made over as a facility of the aforementioned Presbyterian Lady's College up the road a bit. I always want to blunder in there for a drink until I realise I've never seen a pub this clean ... oh, well, I have a Bible in my bag and a train to catch. I go down onto the station to wait, reading, to pass the time, a bit of Revelations: Behold, he is coming with the clouds! Every eye shall see him, and among them those who pierced him: and all the peoples of the world shall lament in remorse. So it shall be. Amen.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Take me now ...

I have a good old friend recently returned to Sydney after quite a few years away. Without going into detail I can say those years were not easy for her, not easy at all - now that she's back perhaps things will improve, who knows. Anyway some of us put on a dinner for her Saturday night but in the end she couldn't come - a major cleaning blitz at her new place led to an attack of sciatica so that was that. When I heard she wouldn't be going I thought, just for a nano-second, that perhaps I shouldn't either. The sore throat I'd had for a couple of days hadn't got any worse but it hadn't gone away either. But off I went and had a great time, only to find, on leaving, that the sore throat had turned into some kind of inferno which made breathing unlikely and speech impossible. I was walking home from Marrickville at about 2.30 am through surreally darkened and beautifully deserted streets and all I could think about was lozenges. Picked some up at the all night servo on the corner of Wardell Street before staggering the rest of the way to Summer Hill. Well. I've had sore throats before, who hasn't? Never had one like this though. All day yesterday I thought of what my friend says when the question of aging and all of its indignities comes up. Take me now! she says and laughs her silvery laugh. The fact that last week I had a check-up and all of my results came back disappointingly normal seemed beside the point: I could hear my train a-comin' ... The perhaps comical side of this is that I'm off to NZ for ten days on Thursday, during which time I'll do a few readings: how do you read without a voice? How do you even go to the bank? Thought of pushing a note across the counter, then thought better of it. Sometimes, on random occasions, I open my mouth and attempt speech: nothing comes out that anything except a toad would respond to. Call me toad, then. And take me now.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Peculiar Human Race

This particular story begins last week when my younger son Liamh calls me and asks if I want him and his bro Jesse to spend next Sunday with me or can they go on the City to Surf? Takes a while to work out what this means but in the end I do. We arrange that they'll come here for the weekend as usual Friday arvo and then early Sunday morning I'll take them into the City to rendezvous with their Mum and a few other people so they can do the run - or rather, for their group, the walk. I don't really want to surrender the Sunday with them but nor is there any tiny part of me that wants to join the race to Bondi ... so ... Saturday I call their mother to confirm the arrangements for Sunday and find out that she's sick, a headache or something, and isn't going. When the boys hear this their faces both fall and Jesse almost starts to cry. Funny the way they always look like their mother when they cry, is that because they've seen her do it when they've probably never seen me? Even tho' I like to think I'm a New Age Guy and can, and do, cry ... ? Anyway, I say - knowing it's stupid, knowing I'll regret it - that'll I'll go with them. Smiles all round and we fall to the happy work of planning. Next morning we cram into the carriage of the 8.02 to Central along with various athletic types with their Numbers and Uniforms and Water Bottles and Heartbeat Monitors and Portable Entertainment Systems. They look weird in amongst the hungover Goths and other Party People sagging on the seats all mascara and sweat-stained after their night out dancing. There's even a guy dressed in red as some kind of super hero reading the Sunday paper and he's not a party person, he's going in the race. Apparently dressing up is one of the things people do ... we get to the Archibald fountain in Hyde Park a bit before 8.45 and stand around with the all sorts that we'll be walking to Bondi with ... two people dressed as FEET (a right and a left) with an escort of Ninjas, for instance. A couple of ANZ ATMs. Someone done up as a Purple Star who at one point takes the costume off and lies by the fountain panting even though it's a chilly morning and the cloud hasn't burnt off yet. She's a bit chubby and is with the Starlight Foundation. Our party of about a dozen, it turns out, is representing BDSRA - The Australian Chapter of Batten Disease Support and Research Association. I know nothing about this beyond the fact that my kids have been doing a bit of collecting for charity in Pearl Beach with a fellow named Philip. I meet Philip, who's in his thirties perhaps, a paediatrician at Newcastle Hospital and a tireless campaigner in support of those who have Batten Disease. You always wonder about adults that your children hang around with so I take a good look at him. He's personable and friendly enough and reminds of an over grown kid himself. That's clearly how the other children relate to him - my two, a 12 year old called Cody who had a brother who died of the disease, another about 9 called Cameron. Philip's parents are there, he's like a big kid with them too. Also Cody's mother Vanessa, she has a sweet face and reminds me of my friend Jean from Norfolk Island whom I haven't seen for years. A couple of blonde women who might be mother and daughter. I smile at them but somehow fail to introduce myself. It takes bloody ages for our 'race' to start, we sort of mill around for a while then queue with literally thousands of others outside St Mary's cathedral while some loud smarmy voice through a vast PA tries to ginger us up for what's ahead. Even before we reach the start line this voice tells us that the first of the runners has already crossed the finish line at Bondi, 42 minutes after the real race began at 9.00 am. Oh well, doesn't matter, we finally reach the corner of Park and William and we're off ... ! Straggling down the main drag towards Kings Cross. First thing I notice is the trail of garments littering the road - Paradise for Hobos, Jesse shrills and it turns out he's right. One of the traditions of the race is that you discard your over garments as you run and the Smith Family follows up later and collects them to give to the poor. This is not the only litter trail of course, there are the plastic bottles and plastic cups, millions of them and then there are all sorts of other strange things. Liamh finds a tiny running shoe, about an inch long, and each of the kids manages to souvenir one of those reflector / lane divider things set into municipal roads to guide traffic. I like looking in the tarseal for the things that have become trapped there - coins, keys, a padlock, the tines of a metal fork, a defunct watch face. It's actually quite fun to be swinging along the highway where usually only the vehicular traffic goes, the wrong way through the tunnel under Kings Cross and on down the hill to Rushcutters Bay. Funny people though - every dagg you never saw is out today with their dream of an athleticism that, for most of us, our lumpy bodies can do nothing but deny. There's a couple ball room dancing the whole way, that looks tedious beyond belief but they seem determined to stick it out. There go the ATMs. There go the FEET with their escort of Ninjas, it seems to have something to do with a podiatry clinic. There's a Viking all in black with two women in lycra bodysuits as an escort, I can't work out what that's about. I hear a sound like birds twittering and four Japanese women dressed as Geisha go by with running shoes instead of geta showing incongruously on their feet below their kimono. Philip is collecting for Batten Disease along the way, he likes to have a kid or two attending when he asks for money so we keep stopping to importune the rich partying on their balconies in Double Bay and then again in Rose Bay. At the drinks stations the gutters literally flow with Gatorade, something I never imagined I would see. Coming up Heartbreak Hill on the other side of Rose Bay we are ambushed by an offensive - in both senses - group of twenty-somethings working for RSVP, the dating agency. They have water-soaked sponges in the shape of purple hearts that they try to stamp you with. I avoid them by heading for the footpath but Liamh finds one of the purple hearts on the road, sneaks up behind me and gets me between the shoulder blades. That white long sleeved cotton T shirt I've kept pristine for about a year now will never be the same again but the kids are so excited and having so much fun it'd be pointless getting angry. And anyway I don't feel angry. Somewhere round about the top of Heartbreak Hill, we look back and see the vehicles that are bringing up the end of the procession and realise we are running just about last. I don't really care but Jesse suddenly starts to feel competitive. He forges ahead, loops back once to check in with me and then says he's going to speed up for good now. Off he goes into the distance before I can say anything about a rendezvous point. We're only at about the halfway mark, which seems unbelievable given the state of my feet and knees but it's true, there's the 7 K marker. I've kind of used up my store of conversation with Philip, his eyes glaze over when I tell him a bit about what I do and then, later, when he says so long as you're not making things worse and I quote First Do No Harm ... back at him, we reach a wordless agreement to walk the walk not talk the talk. Vanessa I get on much better with but at a certain point, and I remember this from my brief career as a teenage cross-country runner, a sort of grim determination takes over every other thought and emotion and you just keep on keeping on going. By the time we turn from New into Old South Head Road and then into Military Road I'm suffering from pain in my hips as well as feet and knees and starting to fall behind. Liamh loyally keeps me company for quite a while, we chat about this and that, mostly how tired we are, and then he says, oh, I think I'll catch up with the others now and off he goes too. I can see them all ahead for a while and then, and I don't know when this happens, I can't. By now the weather, which has been fine and cool for most of the walk, is starting to pack up, you can see long ragged brown-grey clouds raining over the City and darker ones above the beach ahead. By the time I'm plodding down towards Bondi, with about two kilometers to go, it's raining, lightly at first then more and more heavily. Cold wet rain. I've got a denim jacket in my bag so I put that on but what about the kids? Their hoodies are in my bag too and suddenly I realise I don't know where either of them is. I'm not worried about Liamh, he'll stick close to Philip and Vanessa and will be fine - but what about Jesse? As I come round the bend in North Bondi and see the beach spread out before me I feel the first twinge of panic: the place is in absolute chaos. Thousands of people are leaving the actual beach, either because they've completed this dumb race or else because it's rained on their picnic/sunbathing/posing or whatever. Most of the participants in the race have fled to the other side of the road to get under cover of the shop awnings there while the brave or foolish few continue in the designated corridor for runners. I've forgotten my pains now, I don't care about the rain, I want to find my kids. Coming along Campbell Parade I overtake Vanessa and Cody and Cameron and she tells me yes, Liamh's ahead with Philip but no-one has yet seen Jesse. I keep company with her for a while, just as well, because I think the queues for the buses up Bondi Road are the finish line when it's actually down the other way by the old Bondi pavilion. Vanessa tells me that, although she's Sydney born and bred (Terrey Hills, in the north west) she has never been to Bondi Beach before. I congratulate her for walking here the first time then forge ahead to find my boys. You go through three barriers but I don't know what any of them are for except that at the last one you can get a medal but I don't bother, it seems as futile as trying to get money from the two bedraggled ATMs standing forlornly back there, too wide to go through any barrier. Bona fide participants in the race are issued with an electronic device that they attach to their shoe and this has to be detached too. None of us has one of these apart from Jesse, who's travelling as someone called Matthew Love, a boy who couldn't come for some reason. That'll make for nice complications if he really is lost. Just beyond the third barrier I see someone waving frantically, it's Philip and there's Liamh standing with him. In the flood of (partial) relief I finally track down a resemblance that's been nagging at me all day - what Philip looks like is a Teletubby though I'm not prepared to go any further and try to work out which one. I go over. Seen Jesse? I ask as casual as I can. No. Vanessa and the others, I tell him, are just coming. So that's good. I put Liamh's hoodie on him and check if he's okay. He is. I look around: where do you start? There's a lost boy, about Liamh's age or younger, walking around crying. No-one's taking any notice of him and I think, I would, but I can't, I have to find Jesse first. There's no sign of him. We discuss the desultory rendezvous point, McDonalds at Bondi, that we made before setting out but I can't remember if Jesse was a party to that discussion or not. Anyway he doesn't know Bondi and I doubt if he'd go there. What I think he'd do is wait at the end, wait exactly where we are. So why isn't he here? We've been standing around for about ten minutes, not really knowing what the hell to do, when he saunters up as if he's just got back from the loo or something. His new #5 haircut all starry with raindrops. I've been on the bridge, he says, looking for you. I'm not in the least bit angry, just relieved ... really, really relieved. Apart from everything else, I haven't emptied my bladder since leaving home at 7.45 and the pressure is beginning to make my balls ache. There were queues at all the portaloos along the way and I simply refused to stand and wait. So off we go, all four of us, Me and Jess and Monkey and the Teletubby, to the line of queueless portaloos past the long Gatorade stand covered with full plastic glasses of yellow liquid looking exactly like urine. Staring down at the bizarre and unseemly human waste in my receptacle for a very long time, I think what strange and uncomfortable people we are, how meaningless our rituals, how false and hollow our enthusiasms, how meretricious our wants and insatiable our desires. But I forget all about that once I'm done. The sun's coming out, the green-blue water of the ocean is beautiful, my kids are found and they are just so proud of the medals around their necks that there isn't anything else to do but praise and celebrate all the way home. Later we hear that someone, a 26 year old man, collapsed and died about 200 metres from the finish line.