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.