Symphony of the Strange
Melbourne – part 2
“A scout is never taken by surprise; he knows exactly what to do when anything unexpected happens.”
- Robert Baden-Powell
It had been one of those fabulous afternoons where spontaneity combines with glasses of champagne. Early on we’d ducked into the Stokehouse Restaurant at St.Kilda for a quick hot chocolate and somehow ended up waddling out many, many hours later. We loved the place so much, we just couldn’t leave. Some nibbles here, a glass of bubbles there and a delectable dinner of rare duck breast, Syrian lentils, crisp shallots and vincotto. Molto delicioso.
Afterwards we headed out to the Mornington Peninsula, and so began one of the weirdest nights of my life.
Situated about an hours drive away, the Mornington Peninsula is where green hinterlands meet stunning wild ocean beaches. Toss in a few tasty wineries and pamper perfect day spas, and you have holiday within a holiday heaven. Tina – our hostess with the mostess - had organised for us to house sit for Swedish friends whilst they were holidaying overseas. How lucky were we to have our very own house?
As we made our way down the coast some good old Melbourne weather attacked, rain began to pelt down and the wind howled outside. The car fogged up, it was getting late now, the baby slept. We prayed to the Greek God of Driving that Tina would manage the trip and dreamed of arriving in one piece then cracking open some local wine and cheeses to fortify ourselves.
Where’s Navman when you need him? One wrong turn here, National Park there, a construction site to our left, no we didn’t seem to be in wine country. But after too many instructions from tipsy passengers, many a U-turn and lots of discussion around which way was north, we finally arrived at No.19 and leapt up the driveway. Literally leapt up the driveway. Tina had missed the entrance so the right side of the car had mounted the curb.
Oh my God! Hallelujah, we made it! We sat and stared at the miracle that was Free Superb Accommodation in the heart of Fabulous Wine Country. Thank you Tina!
And that’s when The Swedish Husband said, “I think someone’s in the house…”
“No dear, I think someone’s had too much wine”, I replied. Ha ha har. “That’s ridiculous” said Tina, “they’ve been away for weeks now and aren’t coming back until June”.
“Honey, shoosh…get the baby out but don’t wake her”
“Look girls, believe me, someone is in the house!”
The curtains rustled and a figure not unlike Freddy Krueger became clearly visible. Fuck me. Someone was in there. What’s going on? What should we do?
“Tina, are we in the right suburb/the right house?”
Do we just go up to some random house in a suburb that may or may not be in the vicinity of the Mornington Peninsula, knock on it and welcome ourselves in with a tipsy Swede, 2 Aussies (one who can drive, one who can’t) a recovering cancer patient and an 9 month old baby, on a very late and stormy night?
“I’ll get the keys from The Very Secret Hiding Spot and let’s go in”, said Tina. “You first”, we replied.
After fossicking around like it was the Gold Rush again, she emerged empty handed. She couldn’t find them. They weren’t there. Then it dawned on all of us at once, Freddy Krueger must have them!
We knocked on the door. No answer. We knocked again. We know you’re in there. A woman finally answered looking startled. Very startled. We all barged in, the buzz of our last glass of Champers had clearly faded and tiredness was setting in. Tina, master of social diplomacy, took the lead on the question asking front.
Simple questions, we had thought, were put to the women who was turning the nervous twitch into an art form: were we in the correct house? did she know The Swedish Couple? did The Swedish Couple know that she was staying in their house? Had we got the dates wrong? All questions were met with indirect answers and strange improvisations about the baby and the bad weather.
We concluded that judging by the log style cosy decor and scattered Swedish literature, that we were in the correct house. We also worked out that our surprise guest was originally from Finland but was now a resident of Victoria and thus we felt must therefore be somehow connected to The Swedish Couple, although we knew not how. She was surprised by our presence. We were surprised by her presence. But after a quick group meeting we decided to bunker down and sort it out in the morning. Tina Sparkles and TSH went out to try to find bread and milk for the morning, God Bless them.
And while some of us were quickly getting sober, some of us, as it turned out, were quickly getting drunk. “She’s downing Vodka secretly behind the bar” whispered Fabulous Rachel, as I returned from settling the baby. “Oh, she stole our plan!” I replied. We hid out in the kitchen and made a cup of tea. What on earth was going on? Well our special little guest decided to inform us, by yelling to us from the couch. She told us a long and varied story about having an alcoholic husband whom had abused her for the last 3 days and now she was forced to hide out here in this house. Not many of the dots seemed to connect, although the dots to the secret stash of Vodka seemed to be connecting just fine. We didn’t know what to believe and hoped she would just go to bed.
And could it get more bizarre? More bizarre than standing in a strangers kitchen, in the middle of Victoria, in a log styled house that looks like it comes from Sweden, being screamed at by a drunken Finn, when all your were expecting was a nice bit of local Cheddar, a chat, and some sleep? Well unfortunately the answer to that question was undeniably, yes.
“I’m just a drunken Finn!” Yes you are.
“You’re a Moslem!” No, I’m a cancer patient who has no hair and needs to wear a hat.
“My husband’s an alcoholic!” Well he’s not the only one, coffee?
“You’re not meant to be here!” You’re not meant to be here.
We confiscated the vodka bottle by physically holding her back. II: We offered coffee, a shower, a nice big bed :II Fabulous Rachel, whom at this time was the one who needed taking care of, once again was the one giving it out. With over a decade as a health professional under her belt and many a scout badge, she rightly concluded that there was more going on with this lady than just 80 proof Vodka.
It’s about the time when she threatened to commit suicide, that we called the police. TS and TSH had arrived back and found the situation had spiraled way out of our control. We didn’t know who she was or what she would do. We had a baby with us. And now she was saying really bad stuff. She obviously needed professional help that went way beyond anything we could offer. A cup of coffee just wasn’t going to cut it. We called the police and they agreed, she needed to be taken to hospital for help. We felt so bad for her but in the end we had to be cruel to be kind.
That night we had sprung her secret drinking place, but it needed to be sprung. From Stokehouse to gaol house in one fowl swoop, that box of chocolates we call life still knows how to pull a fast one.
But tomorrow was a new day, for her and for us.
[Photos courtesy of www.sxc.hu ]