Timmy’s fallen down the well?

Tuesday started, as days down under always seem to for me, far too early and with a vague feeling that someone’s stolen the sentient part of my brain and replaced it with some sort of delicious nougaty goo. I tried to get the thinking back with a warm-ish shower in a freezing cold room, followed by a nice cup of tea and setting the fire alarm off. Ah, the joys of toast.

I’d flown down from Sydney the day before, on a wee plane full of coughs and sniffles. Which is always reassuring when you’re heading into the Swine Flu capital of Australia.

It’s kind of weird: visiting someone and being given a room with en suite shower, bath, washing machine, and chunky stained glass sculpture/window; billiard room, cooking facilities, well-stocked fridge, couch, dining area, and an upright piano (with a buggered E above middle C*). I’ve stayed in four star hotels where the facilities didn’t even come close. But best of all was the outsides...

Now you’re going to have to forgive me if I wank lyrical for a moment here:

I wandered out the door, into the bush and the early morning light. The scribble of eucalyptus trees, dark against the pale blue sky. Steam rising from the scrappy underbrush, glowing in the sun’s early touch. The smell of cough mixture tainting the air from fallen eucalyptus leaves. The screech and drum of birds and frogs, hidden in the bush. And then there were kangaroos.

I’d never seen kangaroos before. Not real ones. Yes, I’ve seen kangaroo impersonators in the zoo when I was wee, and on the telly, but this was the my first, genuine, 100%, look for the union label, hopping around in the wild, kangaroo. There were three of them, frozen in the scrub, staring at us: Victorian old ladies, standing prim and proper, clutching invisible handbags to their chests. A look of mild distaste on their long hairy faces, peering through the bush.

When you see them from the waist up it even looks as if they’re wearing vast crinoline dresses -- the kind with a bustle out the back. And they just stood there for two whole minutes, disapproving of me, then they were off, bounding away into the trees. Knees together, dainty little ankles flashing saucily, dirty great big feet thumping on the muddy ground.

I stood there and watched them go, grinning like I’d been dropped on my head once too often. Kanga-fucking-roos, right there, in the wild!**

And best of all, they’re bloody tasty too.

Anyway, mid-morning there was a scramble for the train, made all the more difficult by the stinky rail operators spodging something up, meaning that we had to have a tour of unknown back streets in a clapped-out, replacement bus service. And thence to central Melbourne.

My first glimpse was a tad on the surreal side, as two men dressed as HUGE seagulls buggered about pecking pedestrians, an big elephant jiggling about in the muddle distance, and a not-to-scale snail shuffling about between them all. Funky, in a ‘How much did I have to drink?’ kind of way.

But we pottered about for a bit, went to the gallery, admired the aboriginal art, then went back to playing spot the kangaroo at Adrian’s place***.

Then next day was a trip through the Yarra Valley, Adrian driving while I stared at the scenes of devastation. The terrible bush fires that tore through Victoria have left a swathe of blackened landscapes. Great chunks of countryside with nothing but charcoal trees sticking out of the dark earth. Apparently the farmland grass has come back really quickly, but the native grass and ferns are trailing a long way behind. So all you can see from the car window are charcoal-coated tree trunks, stretching away into the distance.

Many of them are sporting scrubby green patches of leaves, but Adrian tells me there’s not enough rain about for them to survive. It’s a fake revival. A dead tramp bounce. Apparently experts are predicting that up to 85% will die. Here and there we can see the rectangular patches of dirt that used to be people’s homes. The death toll was huge, and almost everyone out here knows someone who died in the blaze.

I found it bloody strange to think that in this day and age, people are dying from something so primordial as forest fires. Not just one or two people: nearly two hundred. It seems like something from another era...

* Just in case you’re wondering, the wooden upright for the hammer was broken, so it didn’t even make a clunk. And completely screwed any attempt I made at playing the bloody Moonlight Sonata. When you’re playing by ear, it’s kinda hard if you can’t hear some of the notes. It knida goes: dum, dum, clunk, dum-dum, clunk...
** No, not copulating kangaroos, that would be rude and wrong. I’m sure they have enough decorum to rent a nice motel room and put on some Barry White. Oh, yeah, you know what big feet mean, don’t you baby... Mmmm...
*** And no, that’s not an euphhemism for something dodgy.

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