Ruby says West Melbourne is all she knows and talks of East Melbourne like an unknown country.
“They drive funny up there. They even show different films, like, ones I’ve never even heard of before.”
Ruby is extremely short sighted and says that we’re all just a blur with her glasses off. She removes them and squints round the room as if to prove the point.
“See. You could be anyone.”
Today’s crowd are a mixture of agency workers pulled off catering jobs for the day, a couple of early teens whose parents work at the club and Bret and me. We’re standing round a large mahogany table in the bowels of upper Melbourne society, a basement in one of the city’s institutions, a gentlemen’s club with a thirty grand joining fee. This is purely to keep the riff raff out you understand. Oh, and the jews who can’t join even if they do stump up the fee. This is non-publicised common knowledge and caused a major problem some years back when the then newly appointed Governor General – who is normally granted automatic membership – was jewish.
I’d be tempted to steer the conversation round to this topic and get thrown out on the street, but instead, Bret and I opt for world politics. Thatcher – of course – the Falklands, the upcoming Australian elections, North Korean nut cases, and finally the resurgence of the Argentinian female populist president.
I think we bore the others into total silence for the first little while and render Peter – AKA “King of doing fuck-all very slowly” – mute for the full four hour shift. The poor boy is in shock at having to work constantly without having a place to go and hide. He’s folding papers and stuffing them into envelopes like the rest of us, albeit at a much slower rate. We’re here to assist a members mail out, a good old fashioned printed A4, envelope and stamp job. I mention that email has existed for some time now and am told that the average age of club membership is 65 and that their members are the sort of people who like to file things.
But it’s our talk of all these foreign places that prompts Ruby’s comment about her home in West Melbourne; turns out she’s never left Melbourne and doesn’t plan on doing so.
“Aren’t you even a little bit curious about the rest of the world?” I ask.
“No…not really. And for the price of a two week holiday I can redecorate.”
“I’m not sure fresh paint delivers the same experience.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve got friends who travel but they don’t seem any happier when they come back. And anyway, I’d be afraid of losing what home is if I went away.”
“Home is made up of the things you’ve lost.” Says Bret. “It’s where you come back to find them.”
Eminently quotable as always, I pause to write down this gem just as tea, coffee and salmon and cucumber sandwiches are wheeled into the room for our refreshment. They’re a left over batch from yesterday but we’re not complaining and make light work of the platters leaving nary a crumb. I go back to stuffing envelopes and trying to make Ruby see that her philosophies and life choices are invalid. The fact that this would neatly validate my own is surely beside the point.
“So…Ruby. How about a week’s break in Bali? That seems to be a fave for most Australians. That would cost about…say $750 all up?”
“Oooh, I could get the garden landscaped for that. And still have enough left over for pot plants on the veranda.”
Ok. Time to scale it down a bit.
“Tasmania? Not too far…lovely this time of year apparently. Set you back a couple of hundred.”
She pauses, looks up and to the left then shakes her head and purses her lips.
“A really deluxe toasted sandwich maker I saw the other day and a couple of non stick pans.”
Bret jumps in with a biggie.
“So what would the pyramids be worth to you?”
Her eyes double in size behind her milk bottle lenses and she lets out a long sigh.
“A new roof. Pointy obviously.”
She’s a tough customer – a travel agent’s nightmare.
“What about Queensland then? You wouldn’t even have to leave the country.”
“Who wants to go to Queensland?” Says Ruby screwing up her face.
Everyone round the table nods and mumbles. Finally, something we can all agree on.