Melbourne story-telling

My name is Mandy Kennedy – you need to know that for this story.

We met online which clearly is the way these things happen nowadays.
He was living in Perth but about to move to Melbourne for work.
His company had let go 25% of its workforce several weeks prior and they’d all gone out drinking for the evening.
He’d drunk applied for half a dozen jobs later that night and, fortuitously, was successful regarding the one in Melbourne.
He’d never been to my city before. He’d spent the last dozen years between Kalgoorlie and Perth, being from England originally.
He flew over (remember those days) and spent several days looking at apartments until he found one he liked.
2 bedrooms 11th floor apartment in St Kilda with views out to the Dandenongs. Nice!

Online, he kept looking at my profile, so one night and half a bottle of sav blanc later, I threw him a bone and sent him a message.
‘So Mr Kennedy71, I guess I should introduce myself; I’m Ms Kennedy 72.’
Now I can see this message with a more objective eye.
My profile name was Klimt – as in Gustav Klimt – the Austrian symbolist painter, one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession movement, noted for his frank eroticism of the female body. You know his work even if his name doesn’t ring a bell.

Dating profiles are like the blurb on the back of a book, they should pique your interest and hint at what is to come.
I’ll never use lovestolaugh73 (too cliched) yrdestiny (seriously?) and never anything featuring my name or location. I don’t need any more stalkers.

I figured he was using his name and year of birth cause he was fresh meat – I mean, new to online dating.
Anyway we connected and messaged briefly before taking it IRL – well, talking on the phone.
A week later he’d moved to Melbourne and that following weekend we met up. I volunteered to taking him on a walking tour of my city; my Melbourne, if you will. ‘Wear your good walking shoes,’ I said.

So there we are, at Queen Vic market munching on a bratwurst with sauerkraut in a crusty roll.
It’s one of those typical busy Sunday mornings and the market is pumping with shoppers and tourists alike. He buys the sausages while I find us a perch by the wall to eat them.
We’re chatting easily, both dropping crumbs down our front, when I think how easy it is talking to him.

He then gets a bit more serious – ‘I need to tell you something. I’m not Mr Kennedy 71.’
‘What?’ I say, genuinely not understanding.
‘I mean, my surname is not Kennedy.’ He goes on. ‘My name is Steve Druce not Steve Kennedy.’
‘Why would you use Kennedy in your profile name then?’ I ask.
‘Well, Mr Kennedy is a WWF wrestler and he’s the complete antithesis of me so it’s funny, see?’
‘How would I know Mr Kennedy is the name of a wrestler?’
‘But it’s funny, cause well,’ he shrugs, ‘I’m clearly no wrestler.’ At that he pops the last of the spicy bratwurst in his mouth and smiles.
‘Well, you’re in my phone as Steve Kennedy,’ I say.

After wandering around the market, we walk down Lonsdale Street and I point out the Hellenic ornamental border on the footpath, we walk through China town, up to the Parliament building and stop for a coffee at the European. Conversation is easy between us. We discuss books and art but mostly food and travel.
We walk down towards the river and around Fed Sq. I explain its controversial redevelopment and how no one calls it Federation Square but always Fed Square.
We watch buskers entertain the crowd and try to figure out how much money they make in a day.
We wander down to the river’s edge and I point out the prime real estate occupied by the private boat clubs on the south bank.
Further along we cross the pedestrian bridge and divert down to Ponyfish Island for a unique perspective of the Yarra River and the city. For true Melbourne initiation, we share a long neck of Melbourne Bitter.
We cross back into the city and duck into Young and Jacksons and I show him Chloe – the nude portrait which caused such a stir in the days before you access nudes almost instantaneously on your phone.
I explain how the public transport system works and that it’s pronounced Myki not mickey. I think I allay his fears about hit by a tram.
I’m enjoying our afternoon so much I try to delay its conclusion by taking a succession of laneways and arcades to weave our way though the CBD.
(As an aside – a few years later, I end up employed as a tour guide taking visitors on walking tours of our city.)

We’re almost back to where we started so I offer to give him a lift home. He agrees, confessing to being tired from all our walking. Too quickly, we’re in St Kilda and the car is idling while we continue to chat. We sit this way for another half hour.
Finally we say goodbye and he suggests that he call me that evening to arrange a second date later in the week.

‘That’d be great Mr Kennedy,’ I say.
‘It’s Mr Druce, remember?’ He says.
‘No, I think it’s easier if you stay Mr Kennedy, that way you don’t have to change it when we get married.’

I drive away.

Postcard from isolation

They say keeping a routine is important. My routine is mostly thinking about what meals I want to cook in the next few days. And excitingly, I now have three meals a day to consider. Back before, when you could decide on a whim to go down the shops for one ingredient, breakfast didn’t really feature on my radar. I don’t like food in the morning. A litre of strong milky hot tea is the only way to start a morning. It’s the ideal accompaniment to my hour in bed reading.

So now I am allowing myself to indulge in the mid-morning breakfast. It might be a case of using up the slightly-too-ripe tomato from the fruit bowl on toasted getting-stale bread ends topped with the wilting basil. Equally it is just as likely to be the three-weeks-in-fridge eggs scrambled and topped with hardened cheese nubs. Weeks of staying home to ‘flatten the curve’ (which we no longer need to explain. Other new phrases that have entered the common lexicon: social distancing, self-isolate, herd immunity, lockdown) force us to consider our fridges and pantries with a critical eye.

Now of course, there will be dishes to wash. Currently there are always dishes to wash. Next it’s time to do my yoga stretches. Move the ottoman, lay down on the floor, press play on whatever podcast I’m currently listening to (preferably non-Covid-19 in subject), notice how much cat hair there is down here, ignore it and begin the stretching routine anyway. My glutes are tight when I sit too much and I’m always sitting too much now. So as I lay flat against the floor I try to breathe slower, deeper, testing the capacity of my lungs. Covid-19 or Coronavirus (pick your preferred nomenclature) attacks the respiratory system and patients have reported the sensation of drowning. I have to admit that this is the thing that scares me the most. Drowning, in a hospital bed with the best medical care our country has but unable to do a thing, seems inconceivable.

So, breakfast and stretches done, time to do some laundry. Yes, I’m washing things more than I normally would. That’s the thing about an invisible virus, it could be anywhere. After venturing out into the world, the one inside opens the front door to minimise touching of surfaces.
Inside person – ‘wash your hands!’
Previously-outside person – ‘I am!’
I read an analogy about picturing the virus as glitter and as a glitter-phobe I know that shit gets everywhere even when you think you’ve cleaned it off and gotten rid of it. So yes, I’m washing our towels, our clothes, our bedding more often. I feel like I’m guarding myself against the unknowable.

Time to think about lunch. What might it be today? Cacio e pepe? Okonomiyaki? Cheese soufflé with a side of petit pois a la française? YouTube cooking channels have a lot to answer for. Get distracted by my phone and check Facebook and Instagram for absolutely no good reason apart from being reminded that there are people out the in the world. There’s a new messenger request. Someone else wants some of my sourdough starter. I’ve shared maybe 30 of these in the last month. People rediscovering the ability to make their own bread. Not that I imagine they will continue to be home bakers once ‘normality’ has been restored but maybe, just maybe, they won’t baulk at the $7.00 sourdough loaf from their local bakery.

I switch on our hand-me-down coffee machine and warm up the milk while it cycles through its start-up. We take our coffees on the front porch to discuss today’s lunch options while marvelling at how quiet the street is now most people work from home and the park next door has been locked closed. The autumnal weather is at odds with the sense of existential dread so many people are feeling.

I think the house directly opposite us is empty. Maybe they’ve a holiday house they’ve retreated to. I don’t blame them. The house with the most comings and goings in our street belongs to the weed dealer.

So what do I do with the rest of my day? I write. At least I try to write. This isolation has been great for my writing. The forced solitude (if you don’t count Steve in the next room or the two cats) encourages introspection. And that’s what I write. I write narrative non-fiction which is factual things I have done and my view on it all. I may massage details to suit but it’s my story so I don’t care.
I’m most of my way through a manuscript that I would love to finish. I want the lack of paid employment to continue so I have to keep writing.

It has been speculated that we’ll be in lockdown til late July. Yes please. Though of course it’s not as simplistic as all that. I still want to go the the pub and see my friends, more than one at a time. I want to share meals and laugh at a joke without the effort that Zoom sometimes requires.

So , Mr Prime Minister, can you forbid me from going back to work but let me go out and play with my friends please?

The Last Time

The last time

The last time I rode my bike to work, I didn’t ride it home. An ambulance took me to hospital instead. My bike had slipped on tram tracks (very Melbourne) and I tumbled down like a sack of potatoes. It took me 6 months to get the courage to ride again.

The last time I dyed my hair was over a year ago. I like that my blonds now shine through.

The last time I was in a St Kilda pub on a Saturday night, the bartenders ignored me while they clambered to serve a skimpily-clad 18 year-old. I guffawed so loud I startled them.

The last time I got married, I divorced him 13 years later.

The last time I took illicit drugs, I did so in a safe and comfortable environment with someone I trust to guide me through. The next morning he asked if I wanted a cigarette with my coffee. I said, ‘I don’t smoke.’ He said, ‘you did last night.’

The last time I took a pregnancy test it was negative. I was, and still am, very thankful for that.

The last time I lied was yesterday.

The last time I swam in the ocean it was off Magnetic Island and not really warm enough but I hadn’t carted my bathers from Melbourne for nothing.

The last time I slept solidly through the night was earlier this year. It’s so rare that when it happens I wake in awe.

The last time I went for a jog I was 12 years old and before I had finished developing fully. I don’t care what other people say about sports bras, bouncing is just too uncomfortable. So if you see me running, you’d better run too cause there’s something scary coming this way.

The last time someone asked me to get married, I said no to the marriage but yes to jewelry and a party.

The last time I raged against injustice was earlier this week. There seems a lot stuff in the world to rage at lately.

The last time I did yoga was this morning. It seems that if I don’t stretch and move daily, things start to seize up.

The last time I was able to use my phone without finding my glasses was over a year ago. I apologise for those on the receiving end of my typos. I now own multiple pairs of glasses that I have stashed in various bags and spots around the house.

The last time I used the phrase ‘in my day’ – oh no, that’s right I never have. Because I still think of things as being ‘in my day.’

The last time I wore high heels I got a blister. I’d like to say that’s the last time I wear high heels but I’m not ready to make that kind of commitment.

The last time I sang in public was – who am I joking, I’ve never sung in public and trust me you don’t want me to start.

The last time I experienced sexual harassment was – actually, it’s happened so many times in my life that I no longer bother to remember.

The last time I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone I came to a story telling night. I’ve been coming every month since. I’m hooked and reckon I’m learning and improving month by month. And tonight won’t be my last time.


Rustic plank table, chilli flakes in the Parmesan shaker, salt shaker and three wilting chrysanthemums in a squat glass bottle; multi-coloured party lights drape from shelves and windows; unpolished concrete floors; two overhead fans rotate lazily; mirrors, hipster paintings, a pogo stick and a toy truck complete the interior decoration. My eyes keep coming back to one painting in particular: an homage to an iconic scene from Brokeback Mountain, the two central characters appear to be wearing masks that are a cross between a goat and a clown. This in no way diminishes the impact of the intimacy imbued in their body language.

‘Here’s your coffee, my dear.’ A hand reaches down and delivers the quintessential cup of American coffee: over-sized white ceramic cup and saucer, inky black liquid with a few bubbles clinging to the edge, two sugar sachets and tiny stainless steel jug of cold creamer. I look up to say thank you and am greeted by a perfect Roberta’s waiter.

Sleeveless, cropped white logo t-shirt, Levis 501 jeans fraying at the ankle, blue floral Converse high tops, baseball cap worn reversed, a two-day growth and multiple chain around his neck. His disarming smile compels me to continue to look into his eyes. His runaway blonde hair pokes out from beneath his hat. I can now read his t-shirt – THE FUTURE IS FEMALE. It is only now that I see that he wears glitter on his skin. It is lightly applied all over his face.

‘You’re wearing glitter,’ I say unnecessarily.

‘Yes, I am.’

‘Is that a cream or do you just sprinkle it on your face?’

‘I actually apply a bit of oil to stay hydrated and then I dab it on my face. It’s a special body glitter.’

‘I have a real glitter phobia but, on you, I like it.’ I make redundant hand motions just to drive the point home.

‘Oh, thank you.’ He half bows as best he can due to our close proximity. ‘Do you know that strippers aren’t allowed to wear any glitter?’ I nod genuinely interested. ‘Cause it sticks to the skin of people they come into close contact with.’ We both giggle at the possibilities of punters explaining to their significant others where the glitter came from.

‘What’s your name? I’m Mandy.’ I stick out my hand.

‘I’m Pedro.’

When he turns to get back to work, I think I can almost see rainbows and unicorns revolving around him.

‘Cheers.’ An icy tumbler of pale pink, alcoholic goodness is deposited by another waiter. This one is wearing a black band t-shirt, turned up jeans, black socks with runners that have seen better days and sports a high pony-tail and bandana. My ‘savage garden’ cocktail is skinos (a Greek spirit) agave gin, strawberries and coconut. It tastes like a grown-up’s version of a kids’ party drink. It’s fruit-sweet without being cloying, perfectly cold and the coconut milk adds a welcome creaminess.

Before long my ‘white and greens’ pizza arrives. Thin but not-too-thin base, still a bit chewy with that tang you get from a long-fermented sourdough. An adequate layer of mozzarella cheese (grated more finely than is the usual) is laid down with the additional onion I requested, then into the ferocious wood-burning pizza oven which backs onto the street. The balance of the kitchen is at the opposite end of the restaurant. Wood burning pizza ovens are a wonderful thing. They produce an intense heat which cooks food quickly and with plenty of flavour. But that heat has to go somewhere and not all of it goes up the chimney. It’d be a great place to work in winter but not summer so much.

Back to the pizza – the mozzarella and onion-ed base is given its obligatory few minutes in the oven, then topped with ‘greens’ which appear to be a mix of friselle, parsley, arugula and other unidentifiable bits. The pizza then gets a liberal dose of freshly-grated Parmesan and is plonked on a warm metal tray, cut into six slices and delivered to the lucky table. I demolish in about the same amount of time that it took to prepare and cook.

Yesterday was a full day for me. I was up at 5.45am in London to meet my 6.15am shuttle from the Hilton airport hotel, which naturally did the rounds of the other airport hotels before dropping me at Terminal 3. I then spoke to the check-in staff who were too perky by far for that time in the morning, collected my boarding passes and began the fun that is submitting oneself to security procedures at airports these days. It was just after 7.30am when I found my way to the lounge which looks like a cross between the Star Trek command deck and a 1970s swingers’ party. That was the highlight of my day. I spent the next 18 hours either queueing, waiting, flying or waiting some more.

Back to Roberta’s. I’ve said this before about a few places this trip and I’ll say it again – good thing I don’t live here as I’d be here way too often. It isn’t the cocktail list with cbd oil additions. It isn’t the quirky artistic vibe of the staff. It isn’t even the delicious food and tempting drinks list. It isn’t that they have a thriving kitchen garden to augment their orders. I don’t know what’s it is exactly, I just feel like I belong here.

First cocktail down, pizza tray cleared, coffee now gone cold and I figure it’s best to down a glass of water. I’ve still got a few hours to fill before I need to leave for the airport and I need to keep my wits about me. Today’s flight will take me to New Orleans and that place is not known for its restrained sobriety. It’s a marathon not a sprint.

I order a second cocktail – the WIFI which is ironic because this joint doesn’t offer free wifi unlike many places in the United States. I’m okay with that. Six weeks of travelling without constant connection has broken the habit. Social media doesn’t distract me like it has in the past.

Aviation gin, watercress, lime and cbd oil. The watercress means that drink is the colour of healthy grass. No doubt it also helps tone down the flavour and colour of the cbd oil. The drink comes in a squat conical glass. Without ice like my previous one, this drink is a sipper. It’s concentrated flavour. By its conclusion, I’m definitely feeling more relaxed but I can’t testify as to whether that’s from the cbd oil or due to the pizza and cocktails.

The day has warmed up and I’m thinking ice cream may just hit the spot. The staff are very attentive so it’s not before long that another waiter swings by my table, so I enquire. Doesn’t hurt to ask, does it?

‘We got almond, blueberry and burnt fig. You can have it as is or in a sticky bun.’ I can detect an accent of sorts but I’ve no idea where it’s from. That’s something I’ve experienced a lot in America, or to be more precise, in New York. Most people are from somewhere else. Whether as tourists visiting or as recent residents, a myriad of languages and accents are heard throughout the city. But big cities are like that, and New York even more so. It represents possibility. Your dreams can come true, in theory anyway.

‘So did you decide if you want any gelato? I think the blueberry’s the best.’

‘You’ve convinced me,’ I say. Sometimes it’s easier to let other people make the small decisions. I don’t really care what flavour, I have. I just feel like a little something cold and sweet. I’m grateful to be able to get just one scoop. Meal sizes here can be over-whelming, especially when I usually want to try multiple dishes.

At the small table next to me, two women of dressed in jeans and flannel shirts make their way through a couple of pizzas. One leaves the crusts uneaten on her plate. It takes every ounce of willpower that I have not to lean over and ask her if I can have them. I’m not hungry after my full pizza but I abhor waste and pizza crust is yummy, particularly these pizza crusts. The crust is where you get the full flavour of the dough, slightly smoky and charred from the oven plus all that sour dough taste. I guess the real test will come when they get up and leave. Will I leave those morsels be? I’m saved from myself by one of the many waitstaff who arrives to clear the plates

They ask for the cheque and one says, ‘At least, I eat all my crusts.’

I smirk while the waiter retorts, ‘Well, I wasn’t going to say anything but.’

I’m presented with my dessert. The bowl cradles one generous scoop of the most intense blueberry gelato you’ve ever had. Well, I had it, not you. It’s perched atop wafers which taste like a version of cornflake. These are glued to the bowl with a delicious honey that they probably harvest from their garden. I lean forward so as not drip any of the purple dessert on my top. My luggage is packed and I don’t fancy opening it up in the middle of the restaurant to find something clean but crushed to wear. I’ve only got two and a half hours to get through unscathed until I make my way to the airport.

A stack of glasses are knocked over but the soundtrack of pumping background music and hearty conversation doesn’t pause one iota. Each table has now filled up and three lone wolves perch at the bar. I move to a corner and nab a vacant power socket to charge my ipad and phone. More pleasant to do it here where they serve drinks than to try find a spot at the airport where the drinks are over-priced and of unpredictable quality.

The lunch rush comes and goes. Tables are re-set and the odd person remains, lingering over a drink. I’m one of those people. Suddenly, my phone buzzes. I had forgotten that it was still in vibrate mode. No one has called my phone for weeks. Apart from the obligatory message from my service provider to tell me what country I was in and that I was eligible for a day pass for only $10 a day. Yeah, no thanks.

‘THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is required.’

I’d heard about this FEMA test on the radio the day prior while getting a lift from the airport to my accommodation. 75 percent of mobile phones are expected to display this message. Around the restaurant, people pick up their phones, spend a few seconds and put them back down.

With a numb bum and an empty glass, I reluctantly decide that it’s time to make the break. I do and I don’t want to. I want to go to New Orleans and I want stay here in my new favourite place with my new favourite people. I bite the bullet, call for the bill and gather my luggage. With the receipt signed , I tip well and walk out the door.

Goodbye Roberta.

I love you, whoever you are.

Inter-City Express

Jet trails scar the pale sky above. It’s before dawn and we’re on a train making our way towards Copenhagen from Amsterdam. I didn’t find it as difficult to get out of bed at 5.30am as I thought I might. There’s a certain child-like excitement about travel to a new country. It’s not something I think that I’ll ever become immune to.

The train slowly rolls out of central Amsterdam, through suburban residential areas and into the countryside. Fog hangs low in the fields. Thatched barns sit next to large-scale modern sheds. Cows chew their cud and ignore the passing train. Alas, I spy no windmills to complete my imagined Dutch scene.

A uniformed conductor checks our tickets and slowly the cabin fills up with strangers. Space is silently and politely negotiated. That’s something that I’ve noticed quite a lot during our four days in Amsterdam. Physical space is shared by many people and somehow it seems to work. On the street, cars, bikes and pedestrians weave their way through each other without much fuss or horn usage. This is in stark contrast to my time spent in New York City where cars are convinced they own the roads and toot their horns to show it.

Our Inter-City train winds east and before long we cross into Germany. Here, we wait for an engine change. Three young German policemen patrol the hallway. I sit up straighter in my chair. The early Autumn sun streams in through the large window, warming up our small room. Only a few high clouds break up the blue sky. Before long, we continue on through the German countryside which looks much like the Dutch countryside only without the expectation of windmills.

The first of our two transfers occurs at Onsabruck. The train pulls in at platform 11 and we have to hustle for our connection to Hamburg. A small tribe of us hurry along the platform and up the stairs to platform three. We are snug again onboard while the train barrels alternatively through industrial sections and past fields which lie bare, their soil turned over ready for the winter planting.

Another conductor checks our tickets and this time she offers coffee. It’s definitely time for coffee. Coffee with milk is generally an understood term throughout the different countries we’ve visited, much more so than café latte or flat white which can produce quizzical looks. A reduced expectation of the quality of coffee has also been helpful.

After said hot beverage and a couple of podcast episodes, Hamburg arrives. More accurately, we arrive in Hamburg. We gather our possessions and disembark the train. It’s almost lunchtime by now so we seek out a bar near the station for something to eat and a drink. I say bar because they’re more than a café but not always a fully blown restaurant. They don’t seem to have an Australian equivalent. They’re often open from morning til night, serve coffee as well as draught beer and all sorts of drinks in between. You can go for just a drink or a three course meal. It’s casual table service and you’ll find people from all demographics seated side by side. I’m not sure what to call it, a brasserie? That’s not a term that rolls off my tongue.

Anyway, we found one opposite the station and chose a table outside. There is a cool breeze so I go to grab my cardigan. ‘Bugger.’ I know immediately where it is.

‘What?’ Steve asks.

‘I left my cardigan on the train.’

‘Oh, really.’ His eyes flash back to the station which is clearly in view.

‘The train will have left by now,’ I go on. ‘There’s no point even asking about it. We won’t be back here.’

‘Bugger,’ he says.

‘I hung it up on the hook behind the seat. I saw a woman do that with her coat on the last leg and I thought – that’s sensible.’ He nods. ‘Oh, well. No point worrying about it now.’ That last bit is more to myself than him. ‘How about a beer?’

He looks around for a waitress and says ‘Thought you’d never ask.’

Canal boating

‘It’s just like a bath tub with a plug and taps. When you want to fill up the bath, first you put in the plug and then you turn on the taps. If you want to empty the bath, you lift up the plug.’ He’s young and dressed head to toe in dark blue clothes. ‘Locks are as simple as that.’

Four of us are standing in close, so we don’t miss anything. Our fifth is at the back of the narrow boat, the stern, because he’s driving, or is it steering? Even the the term steering is misleading. When it is my turn, it feels like I’m trying to guide a 56ft (17m) bus along a narrow, icy road without any brakes. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s get back to the locks.

Locks are a way of altering the height of a waterway. They comprise of two sets of gates, one at either end, as well as paddles which are lifted or lowered to allow water out or in. Water inside the lock chamber needs to be at the level that the boat currently is. So if you’re going downhill, you make sure the paddles are down on the far set of gates and raise the paddles of the set closer to the boat. Once the water fills the chamber, the pressure has equalised and simply leaning on the gates will open them easily. If you try and force them, you’ll only do yourself an injury.

After bringing the boat inside the chamber, the gates are closed behind the boat. The boat needs to keep far enough forward of the cill which becomes exposed when the water level falls far enough. If the back gets caught, the boat can list forward and fill with water. So now we’re inside, the paddles at the front are lifted and the water drains away, levelling out again so the gates can open and the boat can exit. Don’t get carried away and motor off too fast though, as your crew has to shut the gates and lower the paddles again before you pick them up.

Anyway, do that a dozen or more times a day, motoring at a leisurely pace along a canal that you can probably stand up in. That was our weekend. We only moved 10 km down the canal before we had to turn around (another adventure) and do it all again. And I’m already conniving a plan to do it all again. Why? Because all mucking in together, talking things through, taking turns at the different roles steering, working the locks and steadying the boat with ropes was incredibly bonding. Steve and I, Steve’s sister, Sarah, and her husband, Craig, their 10 year-old son, Byron and my nephew, Marcus, all worked as a team. It was kind of like camping but on a narrow boat.

Our instructor, Will, has been only working for Shire Cruisers for four years but his family always had a canal boat so he grew up around them. Coiling the rope neatly and hanging it on the back hooks is second nature to him. You won’t find him tripping over it and falling in the fetid water. He scales the side ledges with ease, can reverse the boat in a tight spot and has no qualm sticking his hand in cloudy water to check the propeller can turn freely.

He gives us a short, fifteen-minute induction detailing the daily checks we need to perform to keep everything ship-shape, so to speak: grease, oil, propeller, prime the starter motor and so on. We are then sent on our way to practise our steering on the way down to the first lock. It is there that he goes through the process with us, directing us like a patient kindergarten teacher with addressing those with a short attention span. We struggle with the new vocabulary, soon coming up with our own names for the tools.

And like that, we’re on our way. The map and emergency phone number is left on the table so we can find it easily if we need to. I keep looking over my shoulder but Will has turned his back and is walking away from the canal. I miss him already.

Craig is doing an excellent job steering us in a relatively straight line. Out the window, three ducks swim past us. ‘Give it a bit of welly, then,’ I say encouragingly. Back in the day, horses used to provide the power, pulling cargo-laden barges down the canals. Nowadays, the canals are mostly full of tourists and holiday-makers trying to avoid each other and those who live on their boats. It’s toasty warm inside now as it’s early autumn but I don’t envy boat residents getting through the winter months.

‘Shall I put the kettle on?’ Sarah asks for the first of many times over the next few days. We all seem to agree that we’ve earned a cup of tea. The boat has a fully equipped kitchen with gas stove, mini fridge, microwave, crockery, cutlery and a dining cum lounge area that transforms into another bed in the evening. Down the stern end are two single beds with good storage, a bathroom with shower, then two more beds in the middle and another bathroom and shower, a slim wardrobe and then the kitchen/lounge area up front. At 56 foot in total length, it is both long but not very big. If we pair with a shorter boat, two of us can fit in a lock together which saves us all time and energy.

Before long, skipper announces another lock is ahead and teas are abandoned or skulled as we nominate ourselves as lock crew, rope assistant or gate watcher. It is quite literally all hands on deck and I can’t imagine doing this with less than four adults. None of us have ever done this before and it is a mental exercise as well as a physical one. For stretches at a time, we’re just cruising along slowly soaking in the ambience of the canals. Weeping willows over hang the water. Blackberries, ivy and fig trees come right down to the water’s edge. Moss-covered stones line the tow path which follows alongside. Excitable dogs followed by their owners and cyclists cover more ground than we do but it’s about how fast you get there.

So many quaint lock-keeper’s cottages, village pubs and stone bridges than you almost become immune to their charm. Almost. The first afternoon, we don’t go very far at all but we all agree to moor within walking distance of a pub. We go through a lock and moor not far the other side of it. Stakes hammered in, ropes tied front and back, we lock up the boat to head into Elland for dinner at the Colliers Arms.

Typical English pub menu is on offer: pies, fish ‘n’ chips, liver and onions, roast of the day, burgers, gammon, and so on. Tonight we all order pie, mash and peas with a pint of local cask ale. Those drinks have never gone down so quickly. Seconds, and for some people thirds, are ordered and consumed. That night we sleep well even with the narrow, firm beds.

Tuesday September 4th 12.10pm Butter & Scotch Bar and Bakery.

Tuesday September 4th

12.10pm Butter & Scotch Bar and Bakery.

Bar AND bakery, I hear you say. Yes, bar and bakery. Why does this concept not happen more? They open at 9am and offer brunch options until mid-afternoon. Think sandwiches in the American sense ie hot fillings sometimes toasted and often in a bun not bread, biscuits/savoury scones, sweet pies, cake, ice cream – cause, you know, America.

This morning I tried to go to the Museum of Women’s Resistance but, alas, it appears to be no more. Damn internet! Promising a vibrant experience that in reality is a nondescript townhouse with a for sale sign hanging out front. Of course, it was bound to happen at least once this trip. Occasionally, the internet doesn’t always tell the truth. Who knew.

So that’s how I made it to this oasis earlier than planned. On this trip, I’m trying not to consume alcohol before noon although the crossing of time zones can mess with one’s sense of whose noon it really is. It’s quiet in here; there are a couple of guys sitting at the bar drinking coffee plus me. The air conditioning is strong and welcome. My 4000 steps this morning were hard work in the relentless sunshine.

‘How you doing this warm day?’ The barman stands behind the bar polishing glasses in the way that barmen all over the world do.

‘Better now,’ is my response.

‘Yeah, it’s getting warm out there.’

I slide along the wall, edging past the two guys perched on the chrome and vinyl bar stools. Black and white chequered tiles on the floor, painted, colour-blocked walls and a feature wall of red lips by the bathrooms signal the fun, casual vibe of the place. The mirrored wall behind the display of extensive spirits indicates it’s a bar in more than just name only. I grab a table near the bar for ease of service as much as conversation.

Traveling by myself has its pros and its cons. I don’t have to please anyone else but at times I crave human interaction beyond the cursory. In the mornings, as I’m having my mandatory two cups of tea, I listen to podcasts. It helps prepare me to interact with the big wide world outside my bedroom door. This trip is an ideal mix of time alone, time with family and time with friends old and new.

The obligatory glass of water is delivered with the menu. I opt to begin with a coffee with the encouragement of the barman despite my reticence for American coffee. He promises to attempt a piccolo latte for me. I’ve coached him through it and I reckon I’ll get something close. I do, in fact, receive a passable piccolo latte. The espresso shot has enough oomph for my liking and it’s not been watered down with too much milk. In reality, it is a flat white presented in a glass mug with a handle. Some sugar helps balance the dominant bitterness.

I scour the menu for a smaller-sized breakfast dish and I want to leave room for something sweet afterwards. Steve would be disappointed if I didn’t. I settle on the chicken, chilli and cheddar hand pie with salad. A hand pie is a filled pastry triangle by another name. The buttery pastry is flaky and tasty all on its own. The diced filling is good value on the chicken front with enough heat not to warrant any extra use of hot sauce or chilli-infused honey that sits on the table. A little light on the cheddar for my liking, it’s a small, insignificant criticism on my behalf. The mixed salad greens are perfectly dressed in a country where I often find dressings overwhelming the salad they’re supposed to complement.

Coffee downed and I decide to step things up a notch with a michelada. A tall glass is rimmed with spicy salt, then half-filled with ice, doused with hot sauce, and finished off with a crisp lager and a wedge of lime. I need to embrace these more in my summer life. It’s thirst quenching and substantial at the same time. I take photos, all the time thinking Steve would love it here.

The menu which is currently discarded on the table next to me promises desserts in a variety of styles: key lime pie, s’mores pie, daily special pie, unicorn cake, salted chocolate cookies, six flavours of ice cream. All these are made in the bakery section next door which I can see into through a doorway behind the bar. I finish up my breakfast grateful for the small serving and embark upon an in-depth consultation with my friendly barman. Between us we concoct a boozy milkshake based upon the key lime pie with coconut ice cream and added rum.

When it arrives, I’m not disappointed. It’s thick and creamy with generous amounts lime zest sprinkled on top. The rum comes through immediately and I give it a thorough stir in case I’m drinking all the rum first. I slurp again and it’s just as good. I don’t often order sweet things and I think I’ve only done it this time in honour of my absent partner. I’m delighted that I did and even more grateful that he’s not here because I don’t have to share it. It’s mine, all mine I tell you!

Sunday September 2nd Smorgasburg, Prospect Park Brooklyn

Sunday September 2nd Smorgasburg, Prospect Park Brooklyn


Not quite noon and I’m full up to pussy’s bow. I’ve found a shady spot on some soft grass in between picnic rugs. It feels like it’s time for a nap. I arrived an hour ago as the food stall event was opening. The sound of grills being lit and ice tipped into cooler bins was the soundtrack to my entrance. Grabbing a cold coffee with whole milk at the first stall in, I decided a reconnoiter was in order. The business names delight and amuse me.

Takumi Taco


Bonsai Kakigori Japanese shaved ice

Jian-bing Shanghai-inspired street food

Mighty Quinn’s slow smoked barbecue

Rooster Boy

Handsome Hank’s Fish Hut

Mao’s Bao

Noodle Lane

Oyster Party

Okay, first point of order. Figure out which stalls sell smaller portions. After one circuit, I decide the morning is best started with a blood orange donut to go with my coffee. For $3.75, I buy enough donut for 2 people. I ask for a bag so I don’t feel compelled to finish it all. The wooden picnic table under the large central tree are still pretty empty so I take one end in the shade of an umbrella. The coffee is disappearing fast, long before the ice has a chance to melt. The tartness of the donut is balanced perfectly by the soft sweet dough. I look around at the crowds that are starting to gather.

That ramen burger is so instagrammable

Anyone want to share some mozzarella sticks?

Excuse me sir, what’s that you’re eating?

‘I’m not hungry but . . .’

‘Well, I’m here so I might as well like go crazy.

What is it? A dumpling? Wanna share?

The best thing about the jet ski is that you feel like you’re going through time. I’m not even joking.

It’s toss up as to begin the savoury section of my brunch with a taco or a sandwich. Slow cooked beef brisket wins. Two generous slices of tender brisket complete with smoke ring at the outer edge are placed on a soft slider bun. Creamy coleslaw, pickled cucumber and rings of red chilli are then piled on top. I attempt to return to my spot to find it’s already taken. The tables soon become hot property whether they’re in the shade or not.

I point to a vacant spot and ask, ‘do you mind if I sit here?’

A Scottish accent replies, ’go for it.’

Plopping down on the bench opposite I place my bun, napkins and various wet wipes on the table. ‘What a place. The hardest thing is deciding what to get.’

‘I know. My girlfriend has just gone for another pass at things.’

‘What was that?’ I point to the detritus in front of him.

‘A philly cheese steak, from over there.’ He points behind and I make a semblance of turning to check it out.


‘Great. We don’t get them in Glasgow.’

I press the top of my bun down in attempt to get solid purchase on my meal. Fortune favours the bold, it is said, so I abandon all decorum and get stuck in. Lifting the bun to my mouth, I take a generous bite, hoping to get some of each part of the whole. There’s nothing worse that the last mouthful of anything being just the salad, or just the pickles. Balance is important. I can feel something clinging to my chin. I grab the wholemeal napkin and wipe extensively.

Pale skin and ponytail bobbing, the girlfriend returns. ‘Hi, I’m Rachael.’

Wiping my hands hurriedly, I introduce myself. ‘Hi, I’m Mandy.’

My table buddy takes his turn. ‘Oh, sorry. I’m Grant.’

Friday 31st August NYC


After less fuss than it could have been, Simone and Richard are packed and ready to leave. It takes a couple of trips in the lift to get all the bags down to the lobby so I wait downstairs and mind the bags. I finger the door key in my pocket. With damp eyes, she steps from the lift with a dog in her arms.

‘I had to say goodbye,’ she explains. The white fluffy dog is clearly missing the sobriety of the moment as it moves around in her arms. The doorman wedges open the door and starts to roll the bags out to the curb. I take the smaller ones and roll them out also. Richard requests an Uber and stands by the curb looking up the street towards the Queensboro bridge. We corral the bags to take up less pavement space. A light breeze is keeping the morning cool and my sister wipes her eyes.

Minutes later a dark sedan pulls up and the driver eyeballs the amount of luggage. He pops the boot open and starts the game of Tetris that is packing the bags into the car. Cars start to bank up behind and the horns start. No one rushes and eventually the cars manoeuvre into the next lane and around.

‘You’re a real New Yorker now,’ I say. Last hugs, tight and held, and they’re in the car. I wait til they pull out into traffic before I turn to go inside. I pat the outside of my pocket to feel the key safely tucked inside. The streets are quieter this morning. It’s a Friday at the start of Labor Day weekend, the last hurrah of Summer. Richard’s favourite coffee spot two doors along is even closed. I turn, enter the lobby and go to wait for the elevator. Well, the one that is working anyway. The superintendent told me there’s little chance of getting a repair man out this weekend.

Back upstairs in the apartment, I take stock. I stack the dishwasher and open the fridge to see what might be consumed in the next 24 hours before I leave and what should be thrown out. My suitcase is mostly packed. The long-sleeve tops and cardigans haven’t even made it out of their packing cells since I arrived. I choose loose denim trousers, a black singlet and a black top. With a bit of make-up and some bling, I’m ready to hit the town. Well, a small section of it anyway.

I grab the bag with some of Richard’s leftover clothes on my way out the door. I’m heading for the goodwill store on 62nd and 1st. I’m determined not to get my phone to look at the map. Most of the pedestrians seem to be tourists this morning and I’m even able to give directions to one. Feeling quite chuffed, I saunter along and jay-walk with more confidence.

It’s mid afternoon when I make it to The Jeffrey. It’s a bar I’ve walked past many times and this time I’m going in. The front bar is buzzing and I’m grateful to arrive before it gets too busy. I locate an empty seat away from the door and swiftly the bar staff hand me a drinks menu. I open it up and instantly regret not bringing my glasses.

‘What can I get you?’ The pretty blond barmaid asks me.

‘I forgot my glasses so I’ll have to ask you for some recommendations.’

‘Here, borrow mine.’ The woman next to me hands me hers.

‘Oh, that’s very kind. Thank you.’ The prescription is so strong that I can’t make anything out. Meanwhile, the barmaid asks, ‘what kind of beer do you like?’

I lower the glasses.

‘All kinds. I’d like to try something local-ish. Something hoppy?’

While I’m poured a couple of tasters, I hand the glasses back to my neighbour. She reminds me of someone though I can’t place who. Tight grey curls ring her round, warm face. A bunch of cellophane wrapped flowers sit on the bar in front of her next to a glass of prosecco.

‘I’m Karen,’ (say this in your head long and drawn out). I introduce myself. She smiles and nods. ‘Ah, I recognise that accent. A coloniser.’

‘A coloniser?’ What am I missing here?

‘I’m from Jamaica. One of Britain’s colonies.’ She laughs and smiles and takes another swig of her drink.

‘Oh, no. I’m not a coloniser. I’m Australian. I’m a fellow colonist,’ I explain and take a gulp of my cold beer.

Friday 31st August – New York City

Friday 31st August


Two loads of washing done and currently tumbling away in the dryer downstairs in the basement laundry. $2.00 a wash and $1.80 per 30 minutes drying. Apart from setting the alarm to remind oneself to go get the stuff, I reckon I could get used to this system. Though it needs to be said that the laundry is insufferably hot and stuffy in Summer, which it currently is here.

My sister and her partner are flying home to Australia today. Luggage is in various stages of being packed. Bags of rubbish, recycling and donating sit in different parts of the apartment. US friends came over this morning to comb through accumulated kitchen items for the taking. Bottles of olive oil, hardly-touched spice packets and half-empty packets of nuts made it into their grocery bags. Stacks of baking accoutrements remain on the kitchen bench while plastic storage containers were snaffled up.

New York City is such a transient place that this ritual is common as people move to and from the metropolis. These friends moved from Texas a year ago. Others I met have been here much longer, though it seems that everyone came from somewhere else first. Six months here was enough for Simone to feel the need to bake. This is one sign she isn’t a native New Yorker, whose kitchen is usually just a place to dish up take-out meals.

Preparing your own food is an act of self-determination. How thick I cut the bread? To butter it or not? How long I cook the eggs for? – these are all small decisions that we make each day according to own individual desires. While there’s no denying that there’s a certain freedom in eating out, it is something that I rapidly tire of. Maybe I don’t want to get dressed to go out and search for food. (In place of ‘get dressed’, feel free to substitute ‘put a bra on’ as essentially that’s what I’m saying.) Even answering the door to a food delivery can be more than I’m up for at times. Other times, I’m excited to find a café or restaurant where I can prop by myself, chat with the wait staff or read a book. Taking my time to choose a meal, the appropriate drink to go with it and savour the luxury of the whole experience.

When I prepare food for myself, I don’t have to consider that someone else may want some of the perfectly ripe cheese I bought. I can stand at the bench and pop one slice of jamon on my mouth for every piece that makes it to the plate. I can butter the thick slice of crusty bread before liberally sprinkling salt crystals over it. And finally, no one judges me for over-filling my wine glass which saves me a return trip to the fridge in the middle of my meal, thus rendering my food vulnerable to my cats.