Precipitation

I should have worn a bigger hat.

More brim, less style.

Add it to the list of things I should have done.

It’s a long list.

I took her hand in mine and kissed it gently. Her fingers smelled of rain and talcum powder. I love the way females waft through life smelling of flowers.

Kissing a lady’s hand was a move I’ve used many times, but with her, it wasn’t a move — it was heartfelt. I wanted to kiss her all over, but it would not have been appropriate, standing on this corner, in the rain.

I should have worn a bigger hat.

To be honest, I didn’t think she would come. There was silence on her end of the line when I asked her, and I closed the call before she could say no.

Her life seems comfortable and ordered. Money does not seem to be a problem.

As I saw her approaching through the rainstorm, I admit to wondering — what was it about me that made her make such a dangerous decision? 

Physical attraction doesn’t leave room for consequences.

Was her attraction to me physical? If it was, it would be a first. No, that’s not true. There was that one girl who liked my legs in shorts, but that was a long time ago, and this woman hasn’t seen me in shorts.

It must be something else.

I’ve always felt that people dismiss me as ordinary until I speak. I do have a way with words, and maybe that’s what it is. Perhaps she thinks something is going on inside this ordinary exterior.

Are the men in her life so boring that she would risk disaster by meeting me, on a Wednesday night, outside a bar on the other side of town — to do, who knows what?

“Were you in the neighbourhood — thought you would drop by and see what I was up to on this damp Wednesday night?” I said with my heart in my mouth.

“No. I came because you asked me to come,” she said.

Her voice was soft, but firm — no hint of hesitation.

“Can I buy you a drink?” I said, turning my body towards the neon sign a few doors down.

“Yes. Eventually,” she said.

My body and my words made me appear calm and at ease. I’ve practised this pose several times in front of the full-length mirror. I ‘liberated’ the mirror from out the front of our local charity shop — the local idiots would have broken it before morning — this was my rationale.

The mirror showed how cool I would look if the world was mirror image — the right way around was anybody’s guess.

My advance planning had stretched as far as standing on this corner at the appointed time. The most likely outcome was that this delicious female would choose the wise action and stay a long way away from me and this corner and the rain and whatever else I might have in store.

The second option was that she would turn up and I would have to behave in a way that would get her to like me enough to want to sleep with me — can you see why I had not planned this far ahead? Even a mathematician would have trouble calculating the odds of that happening.

So, now I was in uncharted territory.

What do I do to get this stylish woman to like me, let alone sleep with me?

“You look amazing. Exactly how do you manage to look that way with rain dripping off your hat?”

“Most of me is waterproof, I guess,” she said, and if I wasn’t aroused before, I was now, and I hoped it didn’t show.

“Come,” I said, “let us away to yon bar.”

I kept a hold on her hand, and she followed me to the glass door under the glowing sign.

Glad to be out of the rain, we performed the same in out of the rain dance that all the customers performed on this night.

I tried to brush some of the rain off myself — a fruitless exercise.

My companion removed her hat and gave it a gentle shake. We chose a booth and sat facing each other. Our shoes touched, and she moved hers so my feet would have room and I have absolutely no idea what that meant.

“What would you like to drink?” I said.

“Scotch — the good stuff, with water on the side.”

A sophisticated choice.

I tried to look smooth as I wiggled out of the booth and went to the bar.

The place was quiet, so the bartender didn’t try to ignore me as most bartenders do — or maybe being with her had elevated my status.

I scanned the range on the top shelf.

“Lagavulin 16, times two and a jug of water, please,” I said, and the sleepy bartender dispensed the drinks into surprisingly clean glasses, the heavy-based glasses that I like holding in two hands.

I paid — way too much — and took the drinks back to the table.

My companion added a splash of water to hers, and the aroma enveloped us both.

“So why did you come?” I said.

I knew it was a dumb thing to say as soon as I said it, but dumb is something I do a lot of.

“I’ve got a better question. Why did you ask me? You know I’m married (she didn’t say ‘happily’), you know I have children and a life. Why would I want to jeopardise that by having an affair with a man who wears hats and writes stories and likes dogs?”

“I’m an optimist, I guess,” I said — and I’m not.

She stared at her drink and gave it a gentle swirl.

She took a sip and hid behind the glass, holding it with two hands. I mirrored her, and we sat there for a moment — silence.

“If I were to let you, you know, make love to me, how would you do it?”

Now, there was a question I wasn’t expecting.

“Is this some kind of entrance exam?” I said, and I was aware of the double-entendre.

“Maybe,” she said.

The soft light and the sparsely populated bar gave an otherworldly glow to this surreal moment. The music playing only added to the illusion.

“I’d run the back of my hand across your cheek, caressing you. You’d close your eyes as my hand touched you, a sensation running down your spine. You’d kiss my hand as it crossed your lips,” I said.

Her eyes were closed, and her lips moved as though she were kissing my hand. I was glad I was sitting down because there was no way I could disguise how I was feeling.

“That would be a good place to start,” she said as she opened her eyes.

I did my best to turn the conversation to other things just so I could catch my breath.

She was enjoying my discomfit. Her smile told me so.

After a few minutes, she uttered those dreaded words.

“I have to be getting back — I’ll be missed. Walk me to my car?”

I did my best to walk calmly to the door and along the pavement until we reached her car — latest model, all the extras. Her husband was a good provider, but I knew that already.

It was still raining. I grabbed her and pushed her gently up against a shop window. It was dark, and I pressed up against her and kissed her on the mouth. She kissed me back, and her hand ran down my back.

“Did I pass muster?” I said. “Will you ring me?”

She wiggled out from under my body, and I felt the warmth of her dissipate.

She opened the door of her car and turned towards me before getting in. She allowed her dress to ride up as she slid behind the wheel. Stockings, thighs and a hint of white lace panties.

The car window rolled down with a squelch and a hum.

She hadn’t answered my question.

“Thank you for the drink, and the conversation, and the kiss. You have very soft lips,” she said.

The window rolled up, and I tilted my head the way a dog would do when it hears an interesting sound.

Her car pulled out from the curb, and I stood wondering what had happened.

Was this the beginning or the end of an adventure?

Was I lucky that it ended so sweetly or sad that it never really got going?

Only time would tell.

If she rang, I would gladly jump into her ocean and swim like there was no tomorrow.

If she didn’t ring, I had the memory of this night — the rain and the kiss and the erection that showed no signs of abating.

Either my luck had changed, or regular service had been resumed.

I drove home feeling warm and loved, even though I knew those things were probably an illusion.

I’m a big fan of illusion, it beats the hell out of reality.

I made a mental note to pay the phone bill. 

This was no time to miss an important call.

It Never Rains On Olga

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Belgrave is a long way from where Madame Olga lives, but it is on a train line — the end of the line in fact, so she can attend the aptly named, ‘Big Dreams Market’.

Madam Olga has her favourite markets, and she always travels by train, sometimes having to change trains.

She carries all she needs on a trolley designed by Tony, her neighbour (more about him a bit later). The fold-up table is her largest burden, but Tony designed and built her a surface that folds up into a more manageable shape. Even so, she struggles with it if there are stairs or a steep incline.

The ‘Big Dreams Market’ is about half a kilometre from the train station in Belgrave, and all of it is uphill — one of the steepest hills in Melbourne. In the 1950s, Vauxhall cars tested their vehicles on Terry’s Avenue. Handbrakes and clutches were put to the test.

No one knows how old Madame Olga is and to be accurate, which is always important, she isn’t sure herself. Many moons and many men have passed since she was born, somewhere in eastern Europe. She came to Australia after the war, when we welcomed migrants (or New Australians, as we were taught to call them). These days our leaders are teaching us to distrust people from other lands — sadly, this is something that we take to readily.

Getting her belongings up the hill took Olga almost half an hour — folded up table and box of jars and an old wooden chair. She stopped many times. The tiny park that marks the spot where an original homestead once stood is a welcome rest stop. The big old house is gone and in its place is a large blacktop carpark, complete with white lines and the occasional tree. A supermarket chain bought the land from the homesteader’s descendants and the Anglican church back in the day when non-Catholic religions were dying.

Churches traditionally gained the high ground — closer to God, or were they just showing the people where the power is?

‘Big Dreams Market’ is held in the expansive grounds of the local Catholic church — they occupy the highest point on one side of the valley, and on the other side, the Catholics occupy the other peak with an all-girls high school.

There is a market very near to where Olga lives, but she cannot go there anymore — someone complained. She does not know who complained; she only knows that Mr Character, the secretary, told her that they didn’t have space for her anymore.

“You have lots of space. Your market is never full,” said Olga in reply.

Mr Character hesitated before answering. He wanted her to understand his predicament. He liked her very much, but the decisions of his organising committee bound him.

“You’re right; I should have been honest with you. You are too successful, too different and there are people in this world who are afraid of ‘different’, and more to the point, they are afraid of those who do not seem to care what others think of them. That’s you Madame Olga, and I’m sorry. I love your elixir, your ‘Imagine’. I hope you will sell me more when I run out?”

“I have lived a long time, and I understand small minds. I will go,” said Olga. She wasn’t exactly sad, but this market was so convenient, so close to home.

The first monthly market after Olga had been excluded, it rained.

People remarked that it had been a very long time since it had rained on market day, and that was all that was said.

There were other markets, of course, but when you do not drive, there are other considerations. Olga could drive, and she had driven, but not since her Vance had died. She didn’t feel confident without him by her side.

The tiny market at Laburnam was her favourite. It is right next to the station, tucked into a small carpark near a group of shops. Very quiet except for the occasional passing train, way up high.

Box Hill market is her most lucrative. It’s enormous, and the largely immigrant population come from parts of the world where strange things are commonplace, so she does not seem out of place.

“You make good stuff,” said the old lady of Chinese descent, “my grandma used to make potions — make you fall in love, whether you like it or not.” The old lady laughed, and Olga smiled as well.

“Love is good, but potions wear off,” said Olga.

“Not the way my grandmother made them. How do you think I got to be born? My father not have a chance.” The old lady laughed again and moved off unsteadily with her small glass jar with the gold top.

A bored teenage girl was working her way up and down the aisles giving out leaflets when someone told her to stop. An argument broke out.

“I’m just doing what my dad told me to do,” she said.

“If you want to hand out leaflets rent a stall like everyone else,” said the tall man with the strange haircut. The upset, previously bored, teenager disappeared only to reappear with a short man with very little hair. A new conversation broke out with lots of arm-waving, but the man with the bad haircut stood his ground and told them to leave. They did, but not before throwing the remaining leaflets up in the air.

They rained down like A5 pieces of snow, fluttering on the gentle breeze. Small children cheered, and adults brushed the leaflets from their clothes and bags and prams. A particularly chubby baby sucked furiously on a leaflet that her distracted mother had missed.

After this moment of distraction, shoppers and stallholders returned to their duties.

Big Dreams Market, every last Sunday of the month, St Somebodyorother’s church grounds, Belgrave. 10 am till 4 pm. Come, and make your dreams come true.

Olga folded the flyer and put it in her pocket. Something told her that this knowledge might come in handy.

Olga’s first ‘Big Dreams Market’ was held in May and the established stallholders remarked on her lack of an awning.

“This is The Hills luv. If it’s gonna rain anywhere, it will rain here first. You are gonna need a cover,” said the man who was setting up his wife’s pottery stall. He seemed like an organised bloke. He knew where everything was, and he laid it out, ‘just so’.

Olga looked at the sky. The clouds were leaden, threatening, full of moisture.

“It not rain while market is running,” she said.

The pottery husband laughed.

“You a bit of a soothsayer luv?” Olga didn’t answer. She unfolded her table, laid out her embroidered table cloth and stacked up the tiny jars. She placed the old wooden chair very close to the edge of the pottery stall. The man looked at her with a look that said, “Don’t let that chair venture on to my wife’s area.”

Despite the threatening weather, there was a continuous flow of market shoppers. Small children and young couples with and without prams. Older couples in colourful scarves and giggling teenagers trying not to look as though they were checking each other out.

Customers react to Olga’s Elixer in many different ways, but on this day, there was a lot of ‘flying’.

Late in the day, Olga was distracted by a loud bang, and as she turned, she knocked over the jar of toothpicks. It was almost empty, but the remaining toothpicks spilled onto the ground. Olga groaned. Getting down that far was very difficult for her and picking up the tiny shards of wood was a lot to expect of her ancient fingers.

“I’ll pick them up for you lady,” said a boy of some twelve years. His jeans were clean but well worn, and his jumper was a hand knit. His dark hair was long and brushed back.

“Thank you, young man,” said Olga.

The boy quickly retrieved the picks and the unbroken jar. He placed them on the table and smiled at Olga.

“Your mother loves you very much, but she is also sad. This will pass, but you need to be patient and hug her a lot. Don’t worry if she is quiet. She is not upset with you. Grief shows itself in different ways. I know you feel it too, but you are able to smile,” said Olga and tears appeared in the boy’s eyes.

“I try to make her happy, but nothing works,” said the boy, brushing something away from his eye.

“It not your job to make her happy. It your job to love her, no matter what. Do not be afraid. Let her lean on you when she needs to. And you lean on her as well, when you need to. She won’t break, “said Olga.

The boy gave half a wave, brushed something else from his eye took a few steps back and moved away.

“You were right,” said the pottery husband as they packed up, “it didn’t rain.”

“It is good to listen to Olga when she speak of weather,” said Olga.

The pottery husband laughed. “How did you go today?”

“Well,” said Olga, not wanting to give too much away, “and your wife, she sell much?”

“Never as much as she would like but enough to buy more clay and stuff.”

With everything securely strapped into place (Tony taught her how to tie especially strong knots), Olga faced the daunting task of getting down the hill to the station.

She put the trolley behind her after having it nearly drag her down the hill.

Her legs and her back ached by the time she reached the ramp that led to the station. She must have looked a sight as she staggered down the hill. Passengers in passing cars staring at her as though she might suddenly break into a gallop and topple down the steep incline.

Finally, she got to step onto the waiting train, where she made herself comfortable, catching her breath.

The journey home was uneventful with the occasional passenger having to step around her trolley.

Olga was satisfied with her first day at ‘Big Dreams’.

As the train pulled out of the station, she noticed the man who had been one of her customers. He was with his large family, only now he was with an old dog — the dog she had seen with a small boy. The dog’s lead was a piece of string. The dog looked happy, and so did the older man, but it’s hard to judge happiness from a rapidly accelerating train.

Waiting For A Train.

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I don’t have long to wait, which is just as well as I don’t like waiting.

I don’t like waiting, and I don’t like standing in queues, but let’s not get into a list of all the things I don’t like because we will be here all day.

Someone wise once said that you can never know for certain what it is that you want until you have worked out what you don’t want.

Personally, I think there are two types of people in the world; those who know what they want and those who know what they don’t want as well as those who play golf, but they are a different species altogether.

I can see the lights of the train which means that it will be here very soon.

It will take me away to another adventure.

As you can see I travel light for a female.

Only one small steamer trunk, a hat box and an umbrella.

I never go anywhere without my umbrella.

It came in handy during my stay here because this town has the third highest number of rainy days in the country.

I didn’t really mind, I like the rain, and I have my umbrella.

My grandfather gave it to me during a long weekend stay at his country house. He took me aside, paused thoughtfully and said, “Never be without this umbrella”, which to my young ears meant that this umbrella probably had magical powers; Harry Potter style, or was that Mary Poppins? I get the two mixed up.

Anyway, the umbrella has been surprisingly sturdy and has withstood the ravages of time, and although it does not seem to have magical powers, it has come in handy a few times and not just for keeping me dry.

Last November I perforated a mugger when I was working in Sydney.

I tried hard to get out of that job. I don’t feel comfortable in Sydney, but they offered me an obscene amount of money for what turned out to be a few days work, and I really needed that Triumph TR3. It was coming up for auction, and I was a few thousand short.

I always pay cash.

Not only does it get you the best deal it keeps you out of debt; one of the things my grandfather said I should never get into; that, and cars with boys ——- I didn’t listen to that one.

Besides, now I have my own car, so I don’t need boys to drive me around.

Triumph_TR3xThe TR3 does not have a top. Not even a rag top. True TR3 owners drive them in any weather and never complain about getting wet. That’s right, we are a bit strange, but we also drive a very cool car.

Unfortunately, I could not bring my car on this trip, but it will be waiting for me when I get home. I rent the garage at the house across the street from my parents. I don’t need a house of my own because I’m always on the road and when I’m in town the company pays for a five-star hotel.

Visiting my car is also a good excuse to visit my folks, so everybody wins.

I guess you might be wondering what is in the trunk and the hat box.

Well, mostly they contain my work stuff. Ordinary travelling containers don’t draw too much attention and the security on trains is much easier than planes, that’s why I don’t fly unless I have to. When I do, the company has equipment waiting for me. I’m very particular about my equipment. You cannot do a good job without the best tools available.

My umbrella falls into this category.

It was made by James Smith and Son in 1880 some fifty years after the company came into existence. It has two secret compartments, and the handle can be easily detached to reveal a dagger. It is also sturdy enough to strike someone and leave an impression, but I would only do that in a dire emergency.

One doesn’t risk damaging such a fine instrument.

Repairs are possible because the company is still trading and is in the hands of the original family.

It’s nice to know that there is some permanence in the world.

My next job is on the other side of the continent, and it will take several days for me to get there, but I don’t mind. I love trains, and I love having time to myself.

I smile when I think that an umbrella and a wily old man could have landed me such an interesting profession.

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   Paintings by Steve Hanks

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Windy and Rainy in Sassafras.

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Sassafras is a major tourist town in the Blue Dandenong Ranges. It’s only about a 10 minute drive from our house but we usually avoid the area on Weekends as it gets a bit hectic.

It was very windy, cold and it was raining so we thought we would take the dogs for a [slightly]

undercover  walk and get a good cup of coffee.

To our surprise there were people everywhere.

Melbourne people are obviously not put off by a bit of weather.

IMG_1944The photo at the top shows Honey waiting for a treat. She’s very patient and she plays the ‘cafe dog role’ very well.

The second photo shows Zed tucked under the table as all the comings and goings got a bit much for him and he told a few people off for getting too close. You can see him looking at me because he got a treat every time he did not bark when someone walked by. He figured it out very quickly and got himself a lot of treats!

Even though it was only a 10 minute trip to get here, Zed generally won’t do a poo until we go for a walk so there was a lot of squealing coming from the back seat as he attempted to ‘keep it in’.

Fortunately we had a heap of pooper bags as Zed likes to have three goes at it before he is finished! Annoying but cute.

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They look extra fluffy in these shots and they laugh at cold weather as their coats are very thick. Yesterday they had most of it shaved off because it starts to get knots in it if we let it grow too long. The dog groomer lady is excellent and she takes her time so as not to stress them too much [she gets along well with Zed and she gives him plenty of breaks]. They have to wear jumpers for about a week to 10 days until their coats get long enough to keep them warm at night. After a grooming session we are want to find a dog or two under the doona when we wake up!

We live in a temperate rainforest so there are plenty of ‘two dog nights’ in the Winter.

A Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.

He must have hit the road quite hard.

I heard the car hit him and I heard the crowd gasp but by the time I turned my head he was trying to get to his feet. As befits a surreal moment like this, he was looking on the ground for his sunglasses. It was pouring rain, the sun had set but he still had his sunglasses with him. Despite the darkness it was not a lack of light that had contributed to this scene. It happened outside the Forum Cinema; brightly lit as most cinema entrances tend to be. The rain definitely had something to do with it as did impatience and a possible desire to not get too wet.

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To get from the Forum to ACMI* (which you would probably have to do at least once if you are a dedicated MIFF* attendee) you have to walk away from your intended target and navigate two sets of pedestrian lights (both very slow to react) or you could do what many people do and cross the road directly. I’ve done it a couple of times during the festival but in daylight, when it was not raining and not during that vicious time know as ‘peak hour’!

Even in my younger and braver days I would not have attempted this particular crossing under these conditions, but this bloke did and there he was picking himself and his sunglasses off the road.

As he got to his feet I watched his body language to see what condition he was in and I guess the throng of people around me were doing the same.

As he straightened up, sunglasses in hand, he looked a little unsteady. The traffic had stopped but this was ‘peak hour,’ that time of the day when reason and compassion is thrown to the wind.

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As the seconds ticked by he seemed to be trying to make up his mind what he should do next. I wanted him to come back onto the footpath and sit down but he decided to continue his original course! His chances of making it across the first time were slim but now they were non existent. As if to prove the point, one of the cars in the waiting line pulled out onto the tram line and narrowly missed him. Fortunately, he got the point and stopped but now he seemed really confused and it occurred to me that I might have to go and get him but it also occurred to me that the situation was getting more dangerous by the second as the waiting cars were likely to take off without warning and I would have to cross three lanes to get to him. For those few moments he was still safe but it was likely to go pear shaped very quickly.

At this point the guy in the little white car (which I’m assuming is the one that hit him) began gesturing to the pedestrian to get into his car. He got the message and slowly came around to the passenger side and very, very slowly got in.

The watching crowd breathed a mental sigh of relief and we all returned to normal time. I say ‘normal time’ as these things tend to play out in what appears to be slow motion but in fact everything moves at normal speed but in what feels like compressed time.

But at least we had a reasonably happy ending and a large number of people, mostly queueing for cinema tickets, got to see it play out.

Every story needs a good ending with a bit of reality thrown in so here we go.

As the stunned, sunglasses toting pedestrian climbed into the car the car behind him started blowing his horn and he kept blowing it. He was obviously in a hurry, there was no need to worry about a slightly crumpled pedestrian, he needed to get home.

Most likely he was afraid he would miss the beginning of Big Brother.

It seems to me that the media likes to focus on incidents that appear to show that the general public does not respond in an emergency. This hasn’t been my experience, and I was reminded when I read this article in ‘The Age’, my city’s newspaper. http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/quiet-care-that-the-news-misses-20130208-2e3vi.html

* ACMI is the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

* MIFF is the Melbourne International Film Festival, it’s also the second oldest established film festival in the world.

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