My last birthday duty was a quick trip to Melbourne on Saturday to see the Pixies play. I say duty as I'd been shouted a ticket by Alex, and although I wanted to see them it wasn't exactly my idea. Left to myself I would have had a quiet, low-cost Saturday night at home in Hobart, probably reading an encyclopedia and eating toast. I flew over still feeling like I'd rather be spending the time in beige seclusion.
Airport coffee. I know there are few original observations left to be made, but why are there so many cafes and the coffee is all bad? Is there a bylaw that the price of coffee goes up and the temperature down when you drive onto Federal property? It really seems like although airports are still 70% about moving people and stuff around the country, they are about 30% about bad coffee.
Alex picked me up. I whined about the coffee, and he humoured me. When we got to his place in Windsor, and walked in through its hip arid-zone backyard, I was amazed to see a toddler fence. Etta is walking! Etta is 19 months old now and just unbelievably supercute. She is very friendly and will just walk up and ask for a cuddle. Pretty winning. Suparna is a full-time mum now, and its very hard work. She has tried to blend traditional Indian and western child-raising techniques, and to my eyes it looks like Etta is a bit spoilt. She won't sit in a high chair and isn't happy in a stroller, so she eats on someone's lap, and is carried around the streets a lot, although now she can walk when it's safe to.
Michael Lean dropped in with a few beers and we had a very nice low-key catch-up. He also just walks up and asks for cuddles sometimes but it never does him any good. He is exercising a great deal and looking sleek, like an Eastern Suburbs seal. Alex is getting fit too, and he and Michael talked a lot about BMIs while we ate fatless snacks.
Then Alex and I caught a train to the city to stuff ourselves with cheap Chinese dumplings before the gig. The place we were headed to had a line out the door, so we found somewhere else, and it was excellent. I love having a bunch of condiments and being able to add hot chili, sweet chili or soy sauce and whatever else as the spirit moves me. On the wall of the laneway outside the dumpling place was an old sign saying COMMIT NO NUISANCE.
At the nearest pub to the gig we stopped to whet the whistle. Already there were signs this was going to be the biggest gathering of Indie-Rock Dads since Indie-Rock Dadfest 2000. Many grey-haired and/or balding men in casual shirts, all of them wondering what you are supposed to wear to a rock gig once you turn 40, nervously drinking expensive micro-brews. The Pixies, for anyone unfamiliar with their work, put out 3 magnificent albums of surf-punk country-thrash black-humorous sci-fi guitar rock, in 1988-89-90, then stuttered and broke up. They reformed 3 years ago and toured to wide acclaim. On this tour they had planned one gig in Melbourne, but after it sold out in 4 minutes they added another, and another, until they had 4 solid sold out nights in a row, at creaky old Festival Hall.
Our tickets said to enter through Door 14. We found it after a while - in fact the sign said it was Door 14 and 17. We were patted down - a big Maori fella asked, his nose about touching mine, "How you going, alright?" I had never been inside here before - in fact, I had never been to any indoor gig this big before. We were way off to one side and about 5 rows from the back, but we could see OK.
I had not really done any homework on this, but it turns out this is the Doolittle tour, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of that album. And after starting with a few B sides, they cranked into track 1 and worked their way through to track 15, in order. It was brilliant - I just enjoyed it so much. After a lot of stamping and yelling they came back on for a short encore, then went off again waving.
They were selling discs of the gig afterwards, so at this point we went down near to the stage and Alex paid, and was handed a coupon. There was still heaps of yelling and stamping but we were pretty sure it was all over. Then suddenly they were back, and started in on "Bone Machine", from my favourite album Surfer Rosa. To our amazement they just kept going through that album, skipping forwards and back, and throwing in just one song from the last album Trompe le Monde.
They really played the house down, and there was no sense at all that these were old guys saving something up for another show tomorrow night and the night after that as well. This is not a review exactly, but more an account of how my birthday got back on the rails. I felt totally magnificent afterwards and so happy to have been there.
Afterwards we waited in a queue for ages to pick up the CD, the walked back into town, with a lively little sprint at the end to get onto the train back to Windsor. On the same night in the same part of town the national league soccer grand final had been played. A sprinkling of Melbourne Victory fans walked past us in the opposite direction. Judging by their faces I said to Alex "Melbourne lost on penalties" - turned out I was right.
The next day not much happened! Alex, Suparna, Etta and I went down to St Kilda pier and got blown sideways. It had been cloyingly hot and humid the day before so I was pretty pleased to get big lungfuls of cold sea air. There is now a swan viewing platform there, and we viewed two swans who were sleeping standing up. They had uncomfortable-looking tags around their necks. These two were S45 and S76. Alex and I walked along swinging Etta and counting "Ek, Do, TIN!" We are both very proud of our small amount of Hindi.
There has been a lot in the news about anti-Indian violence in Australia in the last 12 months. I have always planned to ask Suparna about it, so I did. I wanted to know if the incidence was growing quickly because the Indian migrant population was growing quickly, in other words the percentage of Indians being bashed/stabbed was actually not changing. She thought more that the growing population was scaring xenophobic people with a propensity to violence, and they were lashing out more as a reaction to seeing more Indian faces. It's unfortunate that the State government, who are financially benefiting from the Indian student boom, are not in a position to give an unbiased answer to the question "is this racist violence?". This is possibly getting in the way of successfully dealing with the problem. While we were discussing all this Etta said very clearly "racism". Sigh.
Alex also told me about their honeymoon in Malaysia, which I hadn't heard about. As Suparna is brown and he is white, they were abused here and there by Muslim men, who assumed he had picked her up. Mostly people were very kind to them, particularly when they saw the henna wedding patterns on their hands.
Alex dropped me at the airport yesterday afternoon and I flew home down the back of a very bumpy plane, dozing between two people who I both knew very slightly. That's just what you get flying in and out of Hobart. It's great to be home.