Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Down, down, to Summer Hill

Yesterday was Easter Monday so there was racing at Randwick. About four in the afternoon a general call went out for cabs to the Ascot Street entrance but I ignored it, figuring most drivers would go there, leaving plenty of work for those who didn’t. But I got a hail to Kingsford and ended up the general vicinity anyway. I was on my way to Ascot Street when I picked up a radio job in Darley Road, opposite the Alison Road entrance to the racecourse. There was a gaggle of people waiting for rides at the intersection, including a woman in a startling scarlet feather hat, scarlet dress, scarlet high heeled shoes. I was stopped at the lights in the far right hand lane, intending to turn up into Darley Road, when I saw her in the scarlet and her beau staggering across four lanes of traffic towards me. How did you know we were going this way? he said as he levered himself into the front seat. Hello, darling, she said, getting in the back. He bore an uncanny resemblance to Sir Les Patterson in his grey striped nylon suit, mustard shirt and heavy, gold glasses with yellow tinted lenses. He placed a natty mohair fedora on his head once he was settled. She was magnificent, her scarlet feathered hat down so low over her face all I could see was the red slash of her mouth. They were both on the far side of seventy, both cheerfully shickered. I cancelled the radio job, said I couldn’t help but pick up such remarkable people as they seemed to be, complimented her on her hat. I think I was wearing this one when I met the Queen, she said. But I might not have been. It was at Ascot. We were walking along, chatting as we are wont to, a couple of Aussie twits, when we realised something was coming up fast behind: Queen and entourage. She touched my hand, I haven’t washed it since, she hooted. I tried to curtsey but I nearly fell over. He was no Sir Les, but a gent of the old school, charming, gracious, avuncular, though a larrikin at heart. He regarded the world with a kind of scurrilous amusement. She was in party mode, rather more worse for wear than he was and inclined to trail off into conversational frolics of her own. We chatted gaily all the way to the Woollahra Hotel, exchanging fulsome, foolish praises. As they were getting out, he asked me where I lived. Summer Hill, I said. Aaaah, he replied. Then: Down, down, to Summer Hill. I had a sudden intimation of an old Sydney-sider, whose grasp of the social geography of the city is vast and intimate. I wished I could have talked more to him. As for her, she leaned over and gave me the hand the Queen had touched. She had blue eyes. You must have confidence, she said. If you have confidence, everything will go right for you. When she was out of the cab, she picked up her scarlet dress in two hands and danced a little jig on the footpath for the benefit of a couple of onlookers lounging outside the pub. Then they tottered inside.