I’m a nosy old git. If I’m walking down Styx Creek and I come across someone else down there I want to ask them “What the hell are you doing here?” I don’t mind them asking me what I’m doing: for one it’s self-evident (I’m walking the dog, of course!) and for another I don’t mind people asking blunt questions.
But wanting to ask these questions doesn’t mean that I actually do ask them. This morning, a crisp, breezy Anzac Day, I came across two guys under the Chatham Road bridge. I don’t mean standing on the creek bed, having a bit of a look round; they were hunched up in the scrunchy little gap, where the banking angles into the support beams. They were both in their late twenties, I’d guess, maybe early thirties. Well dressed. Clutching notebooks. Old Mate was under the arch on the opposite bank, asleep (or pretending to be). They were quite cheerful, these two, and we passed the time of day as though we were outside the post office in Beaumont Street. But screaming inside me all the time was the question “What the hell are you doing?”
Being British I carried on, of course, as though what they were doing – right here, right now, squashed into a narrow gap under the Chatham Road bridge on Anzac Day morning – was completely normal. But the further I walked towards Islington the more I resolved, on my return, to demand some answers.
I was talking about the creek with a friend a while back, moaning about the litter, and he asked me if I picked it up. He remembered how, as a boy, his father would always take a plastic bag to the beach and pick up litter as they walked along and how, being a boy, this filled him with an appalling sense of shame and embarrassment but now, as an adult, he found himself stuffing a plastic bag in his pocket whenever he set off for the beach. I must admit that I’m a sporadic picker-upper of litter, usually stung into action when the creek hasn’t flowed for a while and the drink cans are building up. (My best effort to date is 14 bags of the stuff.) This morning there were only big things, such as this bundle of cellophane:
And this busted paddling pool:
But I was doing a bit of an emu bob as a looped back through the gasworks and towards Clyde Street. A brightly coloured wrapper caught my eye and I bent to pick it up. Then stopped.
It’s not every day you find a 5″ glittery lady’s finger on the footpath and, though I’ll cheerfully pick up Jambo’s poo there was something about this that made go … hmm. What sucked me in though (and here’s the “nosy old git” link) was the bit of paper sticking out the side: “instruction manual”. Now that captured my imagination! An instruction manual? Surely you just, well, you know …
Apparently not! As well as the instructions for general use there’s a “warning” section, a “cleaning and care” section and even an unnervingly titled “electrical malfunction” section, from which I quote:
Excessive usage … will cause wear on the motor and cause the motor to overheat. If this happens and the vibrator seems alarmingly hot, switch it off immediately and allow to cool down before using again.
Alarmingly hot? Bloody hell.
A clanging of bells brought me to my senses and I realised that the gates were closed. A queue of traffic was banked up on Clyde Street and the drivers, one and all, were watching me, perhaps waiting to see what I’d do with my 5″ glittery lady’s finger. This time my sense of Britishness served me well and I did the right thing: put the wrapper in my pocket so that, later, I could separate the plastic casing (red-topped, general rubbish bin) from the instruction manual (yellow-topped, recycling bin).
I still had work to do. Those two men, under the Chatham Road bridge: would they still be there?
Annoyingly, they’d gone. Now I’ll never know what the hell it was they were up to. I’ll never be able to ask: what was the buzz, cock?
[Post script: all males of my age and ethno-cultural background will know that “What’s the buzz, cock?” was the heading in Time Out, ahead of a review of TV show Rock Follies. It’s the heading that famously gave Peter McNeish and Howard Trafford (aka Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto) the idea for the name for their new band, Buzzcocks. Did you get Rock Follies in Australia? It was a show about the seedy side of the music industry and launched the careers of Julie Covington, Rula Lenska and the other woman whose name no-one ever remembers*. My cousin Andrew had the LP and I can still sing most of the theme tune.]
* Charlotte Cornwell. Thank you, Google.