Sunday, May 10, 2009

Australia (Warning: This Post Is Almost As Long As The Film)

It's May and things are going from good to better, to bad to worse, to great, to alrightish-once-I've-had-this-cup-of-tea-and-oh-is-that-a-muffin? to just life. I have far too many things to say in one post, so I will attempt to whittle them down. (I have failed to do any real whittling. More wittering that whittling, really. Sorry.)

Australia flew by in a flurry of dismal attempts to be upgraded on planes, gingham tents in garages, small, energetic dogs, beaches, kangaroos, sunsets, beer, sushi, birthdays and suspended vegetarianism. It was marvellous. My impulse when attempting to describe three weeks of holiday in a few sentences is to launch into detailed descriptions of the weather. I am going to resist, though, and try and tell you what the holiday itself was actually like. I will aim for brevity. (Again, FAIL.)

There were four of us visiting - Ben, his Mum, his Dad and me. Laura (Ben's sister) and her partner Rob live in a wooden floored house in the suburbs of Melbourne. Ben and I stayed in a delightfully-constructed gingham gazebo in the garage. (However, unlike any that I have seen, this garage was free of dusty boxes of crap, which made the experience considerably more pleasant for us.) Some days Laura and Rob were working, so we all took ourselves off on adventures around Melbourne. I hadn't realized quite how nice a city Melbourne would be. I have been to Sydney, Cairns, Brisbane and Darwin, and I must say I preferred Melbourne to all those places. It seems small and friendly, whilst also managing to be lively and a bit glamorous. What a clever balance to strike. At first I was a bit suspicious of all the happy, trendy people in the bars and cafés. It all seemed a little too perfect. Laughing trendily and sipping at excellent wine, they all had a joie de vivre that confused me. It seemed odd to me that nobody was screaming at their children or swearing at passers-by. Their skin was tanned, and not at all the shade of grey to which I have become accustomed. The sun was out, and yet all the men appeared still to be wearing their tops, and none of them were proudly sporting third degree burns. It was baffling.

I quickly found that, even without these simple home comforts, I felt pretty relaxed in Melbourne. Ben and I traipsed about taking pictures of the amazing graffiti in the lanes, and went to the achingly cool Until Never gallery. We did this on our own, so as not to bore his parents and sister with our joint love of street art, but there were plenty of family trips as well. We spent a few nights on Phillip Island, where we watched the penguins on their twilight journey from the sea to their hillside nests. We sat on the beach with our binoculars, peering at the little birds as they huddled together and ran across the sand. The following day we went to a wildlife reserve. By that point I had started to feel a little interesting-animaled out (we had seen some extremely soporific koalas that day), so trailed into the wildlife reserve without a great degree of enthusiasm. I was wrong, though, as it turned out to be brilliant.

Kangaroos and wallabies boinged freely about, eagerly nibbling the feed we had been given to offer them. At first I found the kangaroos inexplicably scary. I think it was the way that they could be right over there, looking idly at a piece of grass and contemplating life, then suddenly, at the merest rustle of a paper bag, they would have bounced over in a single, terrifying leap, nosing into your hands and slapping their great tails in the dust. I did a lot of hiding behind Ben's arm, until he managed to shake me off and I was on my own, nervously being eyed by ten hungry marsupials. They paled, though, in comparison to the emus, who were also freely stalking the sixty acre park. Huge, ungainly things, I couldn't help but interpret their cold stare as that of a gangster who is planning to wreak some terrible revenge on you, but who will psychologically torment you first by silently standing behind you while you are warily feeding kangaroos. Walking through the mob of emus (that is the actual collective noun, I looked it up) all I could think was I CANNOT OUT RUN THEM. THERE IS NOWHERE TO HIDE. Ben fed one, and it nearly snapped his hand off. I crept back to the kangaroos, who suddenly seemed like adorable newborn kittens in comparison.

My birthday was lovely. Ben made french toast for breakfast, complete with maple syrup, strawberries and cream, and delicious coffee. The rest of the family went off belt shopping, while Ben and I caught the tram into town, and wandered about, happily going to galleries and sipping Champagne. We saw some of the most amazing photography I've ever seen, an exhibition called On The Quiet Water by Yang Yongliang. (The photos on the website do not do justice to the incredible power of his work. It is somehow at once peaceful and apocalyptic. He combines ancient and modern methods to create awe-inspiring, delicate pieces that held us enraptured as we walked around.) After a delicious day, we needed to go back to Laura's, to meet up with the family, have a small slice of the lemon cake Ben had made for me the previous day, and go out for dinner.

We walked through Flinders Street station, and at once heard the telltale sounds of a group of beatboxers and rappers, otherwise known as a cipher. We watched for a bit, and then, after a bit of nudging from me, Ben joined in, energetically adding his own beatbox sounds to the group. I stood at the side, took pictures and grinned, wishing for the millionth time that I too could magically beatbox without actually having to do the hours of practice it would take for me to be any good.

Eventually we caught the train back, and after a quick turnaround and a bit of gift giving/receiving, we walked along the road to a lovely Japanese restaurant, where we devoured miso soup and edamame, after which they brought out three of those wooden boats piled high with sushi and sashimi. It was amazing, and by the time the taxi cam to whisk us into the city I was heady with sushi delirium.

Ben had found a place called Bennett's Lane Jazz Club, at which was performing a man called Mr Percival. We hadn't heard of him before, but the descriptions on the site of his use of loop pedals and vocal dexterity attracted us. We were not disappointed. As soon as he started his set it was clear just how wonderful his voice was, smooth and effortless. He started by looping the backing to Ain't No Sunshine, building it up with harmonies on top of harmonies. By the time he came in with the first line, we had been waiting in exquisite agony and so burst into applause. He continued like this, using three separate microphones and connected to three pedals, recording and playing back his voice as he leapt across the stage to manipulate the sounds. The most impressive thing, though, was that while he was doing all this, he was chatting with the audience, merrily inviting our participation and jokily making everyone feel completely relaxed. It was beautiful, but also seemed that we were witnessing myriad feats of engineering, using the technology to eliminate any need for anyone else to accompany him.

All throughout the first set, Ben and I were on the edges of our seats. Ben uses his loop pedal a lot in his work, and I love layering up vocals on my tracks, so we were both in awe of Mr Percival as he played with the pedals, and his voice, so expertly. It was no surprise then, I suppose, that in the second set, when Mr Percival was singing Superstition and asked whether anyone wanted to come and sing, I scrambled to my feet and practically bit the microphone out of his hand. Laura shouted out that it was my birthday, so after that he made a few more references to me. Later on, he decided to get a man up on stage, and selected Ben (as the Birthday Girl's boyfriend), who he seated on stage and forced to sing, while Mr Percival came to where I was sitting and began dancing with me. Ben sat, eyes squeezed shut, singing, until he had clearly had enough, and started to beatbox. Mr Percival's head whipped around, and he promptly threw me aside from the ballroom pose in which he was holding me and leapt up on stage.

They did a duet for the next few songs, and the audience couldn't believe it. Ben is an amazing beatboxer, and not unused to being up on stage, so together they whipped up everyone in the room into a voice-wizardry-induced frenzy.

After the show we chatted to him, and he and Ben gazed into one another's eyes, clearly each a bit in love with the other. I smiled, and tried to pretend that I didn't mind that Ben had totally stolen my thunder ON MY BIRTHDAY. I was secretly just really, really proud. Then we all went drinking.

It was a bloody marvellous birthday, all in all.

Actually, it was a bloody marvellous trip. I hated the flights as much as I always hate flights ("Ben, wake up. Wake up. My feet have turned into bear feet. I've got paws! Wake up!") but other than that I loved all of it. We ate in wonderful restaurants and saw some excellent comedy (Tim Minchin, marry me). I developed an allergic reaction to guide book speak ("browse the enchanting language of the enticing tourist information pamphlets, carefully crafted by people who think you're a moron to provide you and your family with an unforgettable experience that will transform you into people trying to work out the best way to end your own lives using a copy of The Lonely Planet"). I loved spending time with Ben and his family, and I love Melbourne.

Manchester had become green in the time we'd been away. Rainy, yes, but greener. Since being back I have found a nice little café job in the Craft and Design Centre, have a few gigs, including doing some Guerilla Busking this Friday. Ben and I are writing a proposal for a commission about words and music, which, if we manage to win it, would be shown at the Summer Sundae Weekender festival in Leicester. I am moving into Ben's house soon, as soon as there is room for my clothes, computer and terrifying costume jewellery collection.

Australia was brilliant, but I found myself glad to be back. Manchester is becoming home now.

I have to go and lie down now, after this epic post. Oh, and also because I have a cold so I need to go and moan quietly to myself whilst trying to learn words and come up with a groundbreaking idea for a commission proposal. Sniff.


Blogger Ellie said...

You are such a super star! (and Ben too, but not as much as you!)

7:32 pm

Anonymous bevchen said...

Ooh, it sounds lovely. I have an uncle in Melbourne. May have to arrange a visit once I get some pennies together.
Happy belated birthday. And I like your blog :-)

9:10 pm

Blogger Ys said...

Wow, sounds like it was a great holiday :) I love voice layering too. I saw someone perform that way and just fell in love with the style.

I hope you don't have the swine flu ;)

11:19 am

Blogger Wierdo said...

Glad you enjoyed - sounds wonderful!

I also love Tim Minchin. Yum.

6:04 pm

Blogger Dancinfairy said...

What a perfect birthday. So glad you are happy.

8:37 pm

Blogger justme said...

What a lovely post! Am so pleased that things are going so well for you. All sounds good.

10:49 am

Blogger Jonathan said...

Your guide book quote just made me laugh out loud :)

7:11 pm


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