“Don’t expect too much darling, because believe me, it’ll be as boring as batshit.”
Bret hasn’t looked up from his phone for ten minutes. He’s keeping up on world news and doing his best to deflate my excitement. We lucked-out on this bar shift: a grandstand view at the races from an air-conditioned corporate box whilst our colleagues get sweaty, track-side pie and beer tents. It’s a hot and dusty day and Bret and I are lording it over the world in our little executive bubble.
“Oh. My. God.” Says Bret and nearly drops his phone. “The Pope’s resigned.”
Cue a mock acceptance speech in which Bret declares himself Gaius Maximus the first and introduces a whole new range of incense to the Vatican giftshop.
“I’ll have to brush up on my 13th century dogma but it’d be amazing with a capital Z.”
This surprising upturn in the job market has perked him up no end and suddenly a day at the races doesn’t seem so bad. He grabs a tea towel and starts to polish glassware as the high rollers begin to arrive. Fifteen minutes later and most of the room is taken up with large ladies hats – read that how you will as both meanings are applicable. As the first race thunders past, the opera glasses come out and I feel like an extra in My Fair Lady. The Men examine the odds, place the bets and consume beer in that most Australian of inventions: the stubby holder – a nasty piece of neoprene that you slip your beer can into.
The women meanwhile sip Champagne or Kahlua and milk and talk about which school they went to, which school their children go to and which school their unfortunate friend’s children are obliged to go to. This is a constant Melbourne obsession like the weather for the Brits, upcoming doctors appointments for the French or annual salaries for the Americans.
Pre-lunch drinkies out of the way, the food is served with great pomp and ceremony by a trio of elderly ladies who look like the Andrews sisters. But it’s Bret who supplies the vocal oohs and aahs and they take an instant liking to him leaving no end of tasty morsels on the bar for our clandestine consumption. We knock back petit fours and party pies in between drinks service and eagerly eavesdrop table conversations like a pair of word hungry magpies.
“Yes but then Carla’s always gone for a bit of darkie hasn’t she…”
“Rupert boils them up twice a week…”
“…and she promised me she wouldn’t forge them anymore.”
The sun blazes outside and the thundering thoroughbreds are increasingly ignored by this lightly plastered crowd. Meanwhile Bret has made a new friend. One minute he’s expertly pouring champagne for a man with a record breaking quadruple chin, the next he’s as good as sitting in the lap of a nice portly lady at the back of the room. I was too far away to hear the extensive exchange so I had to ask.
“What did she want?”
“She wants someone to shampoo her poodles.”
“And what did you say?”
“I said, what are your poodles called”
“Chatty dog and Pompom, I mean…how hard can it be to shampoo a poodle. I gave her my number. She said she’d call later.”
From Pope to poodle washer in three hours.
Alcohol slowly but surely loosens tongues, and manners come tumbling after.
What started off as a polite crowd has turned a little rowdy and pushy. You’d think this only happens in the beer tents but rudeness doesn’t follow class lines.
“Oi! Where’s my wife’s Kahlua and milk mate?”
It’ll be on your head if you don’t ask nicely. Mate.
A late attempt at order is made with the arrival of the Australian racing icon Gai Waterhouse, who, although initially famous for acting in Dr Who back in the dark ages, then married into money and became horsey girl number one. They listen politely as she speaks and even applaud but most of this crowd are past comprehension. The state they’re in, Bret could give a well received speech. Their chauffeurs are already warming up the engines in the dusty car park below, and anyway, it’s nearly time for cocktails at home. We wipe down, clear up the bottles, cork the champagne and walk back to the car. Job well done. Bret leans on the bonnet and lights up his first ciggie of the evening.
“Ah the sweet sweet nectar of late stage emphysema.”
He practically inhales the entire thing in one go then pulls out his vibrating phone.
“Ah ha. Poodle lady.”