Monday, September 1, 2003

Countdown to Cambridge: C minus 28 days
(My last four days in excruciating detail)

Today: Visa day!

Canberra is a little surreal after Melbourne. The sky is so big, everything else looks, well, flat – or in bizarrely compressed perspective, like a Jeffrey Smart painting.

Indeed, whoever designed the Brindabella Business Park at the Canberra airport had clearly recently OD’d on some Smart paintings: solid blocks of industrial colour rising out of no discernable foreground and standing stark against the sky. The buildings all had that assembled-from-simple-shapes-on-a-fuzzy-felt-board look to them. One of these oddities was the quaintly titled Piccadilly House, which accommodates the British High Commission Consular Section.

I felt nervous that my paperwork would be found wanting. (“What do you mean you don’t have birth certificates for at least five grandparents?”) However, the only hassle was waiting. A cheery consular officials sat behind a bank teller’s glass screen and informed me, tinnily, through a Bose speaker that my four-year ancestry-based entry permit will be ready to collect lunchtime tomorrow.

To step back in time:

Friday night:
I did, in the end, get a bit emotional, saying goodbye to my colleagues. The boss and his PA (hereafter, “Moneypenny”) had some lovely words to say, and I went for a pre-drinks drink with Moneypenny where we managed to get sincerely sentimental about the quality of our working relationship.

It has been an excellent year working closely with the two of them, and I’ve learned a good deal from both.

My second farewell function was aimed at outside-work friends, although Mr Z and another recent-leaver from my organisation were kind enough to come along. Drinks were low-key and at the Lounge, on the upstairs balcony. I was delighted by the turnout. There was a good cross-section of lawyer-type, blogging, book clubbing, old Canberra and new Melbourne friends – as well as it being the first occasion when my new, temporary set of housemates were all out on the town together.

The most amusing part of the night was my effort at table reservation. I arrived first (a mere 20 minutes late) to find the far corner of *my* table already colonised by a group of Brunswick Street types whom I randomly decided to be cinema studies students planning a short film. I sat as far as possible from them, and allowed friends to infill around me, creeping along the table.

“Yup,” I said, “it starts with population pressures, ripens into border disputes – and then it’s all just a question of what the German economy is doing.”

The situation resolved itself according to some unsuspected law of moral balance: as soon as we (the late arriving types who’d booked) filled exactly half the table and were elbow-to-elbow with the interlopers, they spontaneously rose, apologised and retreated to an island colony of two nearby tables which they pushed together.

The second most amusing part of the evening was finishing up my final night in Melbourne dancing at the self-consciously daggy 80s/90s disco at the Builders Arms Hotel on Getrude Street. Nicole, Miriam, Martin, Fiona and I were the posse for that event. Some of the others present didn’t look as though they’d changed their hair styles since the music was first played.

Saturday: I awoke at 9 am, refreshingly un-hungover and began madly stuffing my remaining possessions into two bags. I’d got it down to three coats, a pillow, a fedora (ie Humphrey Bogart) hat, two large green suitcases (only one with wheels), two suit-packs and several stray handfuls of bits and pieces by the time the brunching hour rolled about.

My final meal in Melbourne was a lovely brunch at the Comfortable Chair on Lygon Street. My god they do a huge plateful of food for $10. The company was my exceedingly excellent flatmates and round-the-corner Miriam. And there were bad puns and good coffee.

Such good coffee, and such bad puns. Many of them mine …

The trip to the airport was punctuated by a terribly sweet goodbye phone call from a dear Melbourne friend. Arriving at the airport, however, proved what a hideous encumbrance three coats, a pillow, a fedora, two large green suitcases, two suit-packs and several stray handfuls of bits and pieces shoved into a shoulder bag can be.

Especially when you forget to put your old boy-scout’s pocket knife in your checked luggage.

(It’s following me by mail.)

On the plane to Canberra, I saw one of my scholarship referees, but was unable to catch her for a chat on disembarking. (Must’ve been frightened by my unshaven appearance.

Or the hat.)

Mum and my sister collected me at the airport. It was good to see them. Although my mother’s vest and slacks, eerily, were the same green as my luggage.

Canberra welcomed me with rain and horizontal wind, which was not a great change from recent Melbourne weather, all told.

Sunday: Brunch with the Ruminator! And an absolute stack of dear, ole Canberra friends it was delight to see. We talked, we ate, we watched chunks of “The Animatrix”. (I liked the noir-ish detective story – for reasons that had nothing to do with the guy’s excellent hat.) Beer at the Wig & Pen ensued, followed by dinner with the family, then staying up half the night reading Ben’s “Promethea” collection in a single sitting.

Damn quality Allan Moore writing.

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