The 109 Tram to Port Melbourne

The 109 tram was pretty crowded by the time it got to Elizabeth Street  but I found a seat  up the back next to a boy who was also on his way home to Port Melbourne. He was sitting separately from his friend and they were enjoying looking at each other and having a bit of a laugh.He was in shorts and a teeshirt and I vaguely wondered why he wasn’t at school.

The tram gradually emptied as it got closer to the Port. I noticed a little flurry and realized that a Ticket Inspector was working his way towards us.His reader okayed my Mykie and the boy passed him one of two cards he was holding.

‘It mightn’t have anything on it,’ he said.

The inspector read it.

‘No. Nothing on this. Hasn’t been used since June.’

‘Try this one then.’ The second card was passed across.

‘No, mate. This one hasn’t been used since March.’

Hmm. How’s this going to work out , I thought.

‘How old are you, mate?’ asked the inspector, keeping it all low key.

‘Fourteen.’

In the meantime, the young man in a suit across the aisle from me, had snuck round the back of the Inspector and validated his Myki. He took another card from his wallet, handed it across me to the boy and said,’Try this.’

The boy passed it to the Inspector, it read safely and was handed back to the boy. The Inspector moved on.

The boy passed the card back across me to the young man.

‘Thanks, mate.’

‘No worries.’

A stop later, I turned to the boy, smiled, and said,’That was lucky.’

‘Yes. Mum would have killed me.’

‘I bet she would. I bet she’s given you money to top up, too!’

‘Yeah!’ he giggled.

We all smiled.

 

 

 

 

An Autumn Day and Oyster Shells

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Port Melbourne: 8-20 degrees and my phone shows a big yellow sun on Monday, May 18.

The dawn is pink and the tide low, leaving a scalloped shoreline from the Lagoon Pier to the Kerferd Road Pier. Smal, flat sandy islands, some of them populated by a couple of gulls on the seaward side, are connected to the beach by water-rippled and barely exposed peninsulars of sand.

The tide is just starting to turn by the time I get down to the water’s edge at mid morning. The air is still and the sea quietly moves inwards in shallow, curving ripples.The pace is slow on the beach; serious exercise is confined to the footpath beside Beach Road.

Shells crunch under my shoes and I realize that a lot of oyster shells have been washed up. They lie partially embedded in the sand with their weathered grey and buff ridged domes exposed to the sun.

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I like to turn them over to see what patterns, what paintings, have been etched into their sheltered concavities. Each one is different and each is a perfectly composed image within a rippled frame.

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I sit on the sand, not exactly warm but not too cold. The Bay is in front and the City behind. The traffic sounds quite muted today with only an occasional blare of sound from an accelerating truck. The red and white Spirit of Tasmania Ferry punctuates the Port end and St Kilda , Brighton and Sandringham curve around to the left. The water stretches to a silvery horizon.

A solitary swimmer cuts through the water, safely inside the yellow boat markers. He (I think ‘he’) has a strong, fast stroke and a steady kick. His black wetsuit has a red strip on the inside arms and the insistent, rhythmic red and black flashing of his arms gives him the look of a brightly coloured sea creature. Surprisingly quickly he has moved right past me.

Dogs bustle by, the owners look relaxed and the sand island in front of me is now covered in water. Five gulls are actively dipping their heads, flapping wings, walking and watching the water.

It’s feeding time for them and coffee time for me.

 

The Blackbird and the Hawk

10.15 am. A flutter of wings at wheel height  in front of me resolves into a blackbird. I’m driving slowly through our semi-underground carpark. The blackbird- is it the one I hear singing?- perches on the yellow metal rail above a tumble of tethered bikes. It settles its feathers and does a little jump.

The carpark is half underground and the top level to the open air is enclosed by a metal grille, too narrow for a blackbird to fly through. I hope it can eventually get out by following a car.

11.35 am. Back home and I’m vaguely looking at the sky and bustling clouds, with coffee in hand. A creamy flash of the underside of a bird banking hard against the cliff face of our apartment building jolts me alert. A hawk! I lean out over the balcony and see its brown back and wings, following the shoreline about twenty metres out to sea. Intently and repeatedly, it flaps up and then dives almost to the water’s surface, behaving more like a fishing seagull than a hawk. The bird heads into the strong Westerly towards Station Pier and the Tasmanian ferry and, in seconds, it was out of sight around the corner of our building.

This was the first time I’d seen a hawk here, so close to the water. I wonder if there is a connection between my two unusual bird sightings. Had the hawk been around earlier and frightened the blackbird into our carpark?

 

My Mother’s Bread Board

 

Breadboard top

 

We have a new bread board at our house.

It’s smaller than a sheet of A4 paper. It has curved edges and a raised rectangular surface for cutting. This surface, crisscrossed by knife marks, has been worn through on the long edges to erode a hollow. A deep split carries through to the underside which is marked by the tree rings of the pine from which it has been cut. This side is even more concave.

Breadboard Growth Rings

I was holding the board as I made my initial notes and thought tenderly of its long life and the kitchens it has worked in.

I think I remember this board being present for all of my life. It was always in the kitchen of 25 Church Street, Eaglehawk, Victoria, Australia, The World, The Universe where I grew up. When clean and dry, it leant next to a larger round board tucked beside the bread bin. As a child, I remember being told to turn it over if I wanted to chop tomatoes or anything other than bread. “We don’t want the bread to smell of onions.” I think you were allowed to chop butter for pastry on the top bread side.

What a lot of meals it has been involved in! There were six of us, and sometimes seven, when Dad’s father came to live with us. We always had three vegetables, white, green and yellow, served with whatever meat it was. I now remember the vegetable knife: small, fiercely sharp and with a painted red handle. No wonder the chopping side wore thin and hollow.

When Mum, aged 86, moved bravely from her home of nearly sixty years to her unit at Donvale Retirement Village in Melbourne’s outer east, the bread board came with her. Here, they settled into a new kitchen with wide benches, a noisy fan forced oven and the wonders of a double sink. Instead of being washed up in a single sink facing a wall, now the board could be washed and rinsed and sit in a dish rack in the afternoon sun facing a gravel courtyard and a bank planted up with diosma, grevillea, westringea and agapanthus. For years, since the advent of sliced bread, it had become mostly a chopping board. However, her lunchtime sandwich would still be made on the top. Gradually the board did even less work when Mum increasingly ate bought frozen meals as her sight and energy faded.

By the time she was 92, she was getting very tired managing on her own, even with a lot of carers coming in to help, so the painful decision was made to move into supported care where she would be safe and looked after. This time, her world contracted to a single room which she furnished with her special cedar chest of drawers, her very comfortable reclining chair and some pictures.

Again, I had to clear her house. Such of a lot of it was my life too because what she had brought from Eaglehawk was a crystallization of what was important to her and most of that was very familiar to me. I found that there were items that I could quite easily put in the skip as rubbish, even though I didn’t want to think about that too much, then there were better items that were clearly suitable for the Salvation Army. Last, there were the items that swiftly brought pangs into my heart and painful tears to my eyes. The breadboard was one of these.

It lives with us now in our flat which we moved into at about much the same time as Mum moved from Eaglehawk. I like to use it, even though it rattles and wobbles on our hard benches. Its lineage stretches back to those childhood Eaglehawk days and the memories of food and eating in that big, family kitchen looking onto the grevillea bush with honeyeaters hopping around inside it.

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The board has worn and hollowed, as has my mother in her increasing frailty. But it has endured, still displaying its original growth rings. My mother’s brave inner spirit lives on in her worn old body generating respect for the strength and endurance of age. This thin old chopping board reveals the work and nourishing of a lifetime.

Who would have thought I would love my mobile phone so much!

 It was 4.31 am. I was lying on my back, wide awake in a hospital room. Both feet were in booties attached to a pressure pump, my two legs were safely strapped to a sort of block cushion and the pain relief was not exactly working. My new right hip joint was exactly thirteen hours old.

Aha! I switched on the light, picked up my phone and sent a rather grumpy text, full of emoticons, to my daughters. That felt good. I knew their phones would be turned to silent but just after 7 o’clock I heard the welcome pings of their replies.

That’s one reason why I love my phone. It provided comfort and relief from the claustrophobic post-operative three days in hospital.

That period was an extension of the almost daily contact that I, living in Melbourne, have with my daughters via text and Instagram. My son, in Perth, is more reticent . We text less and talk more. Our oldest daughter and her partner have recently adopted a rescued greyhound, Toby, who is now our designated grandpuppy. I receive pictures and comments about him and his enormous cuteness. We exchange chit chat about work, the weather- she rides her bike to work- plans, the TV we watch. Our younger daughter has two small children aged one and nearly five and lives on Phillip Island. Practically every day we talk via text. She sends pictures of the children, herself at Surfing Mums, shares stories about them and shows what she’s picked from the veggie garden.

I think back to the late seventies when I had the two girls and the late sixties when I had my son. My parents lived in Eaglehawk, one hundred miles north of Melbourne, and I would ring Mum once a week on a long distance call. It felt special as it was expensive to us at that time and I would have to wait for the cheaper evening rates. I would have loved to have had the casual, instant, easy contact that a mobile phone offers, especially when we went to the UK for three years with my two year old son. There were times when I really wanted to share something special or was lonely or bored and wanted to just talk to her about my children. Email would have been wonderful.

This family contact via smart phone continues with Instagram. I have a whole three followers, my two daughters and the friend who showed me how to do it. One daughter, who I introduced to Instagram, now claims that I have made her addicted to its curious pleasures. My friends are strangely uninterested in my Instagram efforts! My initial focus was plane trees and paths, both of which I, at least, am interested in. I’ve gradually extended my range of images as I developed my interest in urban nature on my writing website.

My daughters are polite with their ‘Likes’ but themselves are very unrestrained with their posts about family, dogs, guinea pigs and whatever they’re doing. I learnt how to do hash tags and was amazed to discover the number of people who are unable to resist #sunset and proceeded to ‘like’ my image. I then realized that I felt uncomfortable with complete strangers looking into my world and stopped hash tagging. Three viewers are fine!

I have two games I play by myself, Solitaire and Mahjong. These have filled in a lot of time in waiting rooms and so on. More fun is Word which I play with one friend living just 40 metres away and the other half way round the world in Wales. I enjoy sitting up in bed in the morning seeing what astonishing word my Welsh friend has produced overnight.

Mostly, however, I love and value the way my phone has enabled the relaxed, close contact with my family.

 

 

 

 

Footpath Gardens: Esplanade West, Port Melbourne

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It’s  late February now, the end of summer, and a couple of months after these pictures were taken. The tomatoes are being picked, the lemons ripening and the peppers are colouring- all this on the footpath of Esplanade West.

The gardener landed here in Port Melbourne on a migrant ship from Greece and has lived and worked in Port Melbourne ever since. He is now retired. His front garden has a trellised crop of tomatoes over two metres tall and out on the footpath is his garden extension.

I wonder if the peach tree is the one he was given by a relative and which he initially planted on the edge of the nearby Lagoon Oval. He was furious when the Council made him move it. I was there that day, walking my ancient dog, Phoebe.

At the beginning of summer, I noticed  him walking back to his house with an empty bucket. He’d been watering a further outpost of his empire, a couple of tomato plants planted in a small section of non- asphalted footpath a few houses down. Theseplants are now about a metre high,staked and bare stalked with a few ripening fruits. He nips off the leaves once the fruit starts ripening.

Further down Esplanade West, the footpath gardening is more conventional, such as a pretty border of gazanias and baby’s tears around a melaleuca. There’s a clipped hedge of native shrubs screening a front door from the street.

But nothing to equal the fruit and vegies further up the street.IMG_20141021_115453

Footpath Gardening. A Traffic Shield and a Memory

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This carefully planted and maintained nature strip shrubbery shields the residents of the corner apartment building from the traffic whizzing from Beaconsfield Parade into Pickles Street. I think it would help with headlight glare and be a really good psychological barrier against the barrage of traffic.

A few weeks ago, a couple of days before my hip replacement operation (just wait, there is a connection), I was rung by an admissions nurse from the hospital for some final checking. After we’d gone through that, she commented that it will be lovely for me to go walks along the beach front as part of my rehabilitation. I was surprised and said something like, “Ah, you recognise the address?”

“Yes. I was born and grew up in the house on the corner of the Beach Road and Pickles Street. I used to love living there.”

Still on the phone, I walked to our front windows.

“I’m looking at that corner right now,”I said. “How amazing”

“Yes, I used to ride my bike to Sunday School at the Anglican Church and I was a member of the Port Melbourne Lifesaving Club.The house isn’t there any more. I’d love to be back there.”

“Maybe a retirement plan,” I suggested.

We hung up, each having relished a surprising personal connection and conversation.

Her house has been replaced by a solid attractive apartment building. I had taken the photos for this Gardening on the Footpath project a few months ago. When I can walk that far again, I will visit that corner and think about that nameless nurse and her childhood house opposite the beach.

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Footpath Gardening 2: Bird Poo Palm

I’ve been watching this spontaneous effort for a few years. This young palm would have to have germinated originally from bird poo dropped from a perch on the tree above. It has just quietly grown into its shared space.

What I like is that the Port Phillip Council tree maintenance workers are now treating it like the formally planted row of palms along Beach Street and Beaconsfield Parade. They give it an annual trim of its lower fronds.

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Footpath Gardening

If you’re lucky enough to have a whole nature strip in front of your house, why would you let all that un-concreted, un-asphalted soil just lie there under grass? If you have a Council planted tree on your nature strip, why not put the soil around it to use?

This  unofficial commandeering of public space by residents is officially called ‘personalization of space and environment’. Port Melbourne and surrounds have some enjoyable examples.

There is a magnificent aloe in South Melbourne, which feels a bit of an adventure to park in front of. There are two trees planted up like this and I like the bizarreness of their spreading size in the street scape. I speculate as to how old they are and am glad that Port Phillip Council has left them alone to grow so absurdly.

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Animal, Mineral or Vegetable

Do you remember the game, ‘Animal, Mineral or Vegetable’? It’s the one where the person whose turn it was, thought of an object, mentally classified it as being of animal, mineral or vegetable origin and then answered questions by the players with a yes or a no until they had worked it out.

That game has come to mind recently when I’ve been finding myself not feeling like walking along the Port Melbourne beach front but turning inland to have trees, grass and gardens in my surroundings.

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I walk up Esplanade East past the row of agapanthus which at this time of year are in full flower. The flower heads lean out over the footpath and seem to be irresistible to some people to lop their heads off. There are always a lot of bare stalks truncated at the top. The gum tree trunks on the nature strip here have a strange twisting habit as if they are following the daily path of the sun. But they’re not sunflowers, so I don’t understand that.

I leave the cars behind as I enter Lagoon Park and stroll up the curving path, trees on my right and the grass of the oval on my left. The wattle season is over and the golden wattles are now quiet. I sit on the bench looking west across the oval, over the ring of trees and over the blocks of flats rising between the small houses. The city skyscrapers rise to my distant right. I have trees behind me, grass in front of me and a feeling of shelter. Occasionally, the sound of a diesel horn floats across from the docks; an evocative childhood sound.

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It’s a dog off-lead park so there are always dogs and owners relaxing out on the grass. I used to walk my ancient golden retriever, Phoebe, up here and stand in the middle chatting to the other dog owners and watching the dogs potter around. Now, this dog friendship group has developed its own Christmas ‘Pawty”, advertised by fliers taped to the benches.

I complete the circuit via Esplanade West where the path is flanked by dietes, also in flower now and rosemary. One of the front gardens has a beautiful fragrant yellow rose. The avenue of mature banksia trees overhangs the footpath and it feels like walking under a tree tunnel. The wattle birds love these trees and squawk and flutter through the foliage.

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It’s a calm and satisfying ‘Vegetable” walk.

If I walk along the beach front, I have to cross four lanes of traffic and a bike lane. I look over the sand across Port Phillip Bay to Mount Martha where sometimes I can see sunlight glinting on car mirrors. The Bay stretches out to the Heads over the horizon, making the view one of water and sky. The walk is linear. Turn right and you walk down to Station Pier and the ferry, turn left and head towards St Kilda, and then at some point, turn around and head back. People stride out, trucks and cars roar, the wind blows. Oddly, the palm trees along the nature strip are colonized by rainbow loriqueets which chirp and call and swoop from tree to tree taking no notice of the heavy traffic. I enjoy looking at the remnant dunes which Port Phillip Council have fenced and added some extra planting. Despite these living elements, the walk tends to be purposeful, active, hard-edged and windy. The sea, the sand, the sky, the asphalt, the stone wall, the traffic, the wind dominate the experience. Generally, that walk and view is very ‘Mineral’.

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So there we are: a choice of Vegetable or Mineral walks!