Northern nostalgia

September 12, 2020 at 4:50 pm (memory, writing) (, )

I’m not terribly good at judging spaces. I can sing Jacques Brel lyrics in French and Flemish, anticipate my hormone levels by the phases of the moon, and nail deadlines, word counts and themes without blinking. My spatial awareness, however, is really not a strength.

My husband still laughs that I thought our snake tank (a huge, heavy wooden monstrosity) would fit on top of our bookshelf (a flimsy frame). Friends have met more than one ex-lover of mine only to lean in and whisper ‘You said he was really tall!’ Invariably, I thought they were. Years later, I would realise several of them barely rose above my five foot six. My regard for them, it seems, continually overrode my realism.

I’m a word worker. I really can’t be trusted with numbers.

But numbers are all that count these days, it seems. It’s a constant source of conversation, especially here in Melbourne: Have you heard the statistics today? How many new infections? How many in ICU? How many on ventilators? How many in my suburb?

My dictionary has been replaced on my desk by a calculator, and I do not like it.

September studio

These are the Melbourne numbers: seven months in lockdown. One hour of exercise a day, no more than 5km from home. One person from each household allowed out to shop. A growing collection of masks. Everyone home by 8pm, the curfew enforced by police roadblocks. The fine for breaking curfew: $1652. Revenue raised so far by curfew fines in this state: almost three million. Three days of online teaching for me each week, three days writing. And waking at 5am most mornings, fretting and fearful.

Lockdown reading and rockabilly mask

I’m healthy though, and for now, employed. I know these are gifts. I have a novel coming out next year through Scribner, and an amazing husband also with a novel being published next year, who lifts my mood and alleviates my catastrophising with jokes aimed both at my large teeth and my complete failure to understand classic movies. I perversely enjoy both. We’re a damn good team.

A Brussels park, and a honeymooning husband (2019)

But it’s the 5km radius that keeps snagging my mood. I cannot see my friends, nor my family. They live in the forest 30kms outside of Melbourne whose lush shades of green I miss so much it causes an actual ache.

But, surprisingly, what I really miss is Northcote. I lived in this inner-northern suburb for twenty-five years, right up until love beckoned me across the West Gate Bridge. Earlier this year a story of mine was published by Quiet Corner in an anthology of Melbourne tales. Described as ‘geographies of love, loss, disappointment and change in a city beloved by many’, we had no idea just how much change would occur between the publication in May and this current situation. Reading my story about Northcote is now a bittersweet experience.

On the Street anthology – click link to purchase

Click to view our online panel for the Williamstown Literary Festival, myself included

I’ve stopped saying ‘When this is over….’ That belies a naivety that I don’t possess anymore. But when the 5km radius is eliminated or extended, I know where I’ll head.

I’ll walk past the vintage clothing store I used to unlock every Sunday, putting on Big Mama Thornton CDs and working on linguistic essays between customers. Past the bluestones of the Wesley Anne where for over a decade I co-ran with my best friend a monthly writers’ meeting, full of sticky mulled wine and red notebooks. Brown and Bunting bookstore where I first saw my name on an anthology cover and was almost sick with the thrill of it. The Northcote Social Club where a Swiss lover bought me burgundy and brûlée the night before his visa ended, and Bar 303 where a date with another man involved a false beard, a tiny doll that looked like me, and a woman who thought she was married to the Berlin Wall. The old Walhalla cinema where I saw ‘Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill!’ with punk pen pals visiting from Amsterdam, and the site of my beloved Bar Nancy, which I frequented so much they named a honey martini after me. And the tram stop where I first laid eyes on my Wolf and his cowboy shirt, chest hair and wide smile, and thought…well, let’s see where this leads, shall we?

That strip of High Street, Northcote may be 11km out of my lockdown zone, and many years in the past, but it still feels like home.

2 Comments

  1. araneus1 said,

    Grew up in Preston so I know those places. Live on the edge of a forest also. Congrats on the book(s) coming out — very exciting.
    Terry

    • inkymouth said,

      Thank you! I can see the lure of both areas, but there’s truly something special about the forest. Happy writing to you 🙂

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