By Duncan Fry, age 11 and three quarters
“…First, I got up…Then I went downtown …To look for a job …Then I hung out in front of the Drugstore… etc etc” (‘Sister Mary Elephant’ from Cheech and Chong’s eponymous first album )***
“Let’s get away from work and the audio biz and head off to the country for a quiet few days holiday,” said my gf – let’s call her MB – “I’ll find somewhere nice and peaceful where we can relax and take Charlie (the dog) with us as well.’
Finding dog friendly accommodation isn’t that easy, even with a small clean Whippet (Whippet good!) but MB persevered and after some intense online investigation we settled on the sleepy little country town of Bright, near Wangaratta in the Victorian highlands. We booked a weekend getaway cottage about 5 kilometres out of town in Porepunkah, an easy drive in and out of Bright itself.
To pass the time on the 4 hour trip, we took an audio book from the library to play in the car. “The Eye of the Needle”, a wartime thriller from Ken Follett. It was 8 CDs, which we estimated as 4 going there, and 4 for the trip back. It worked out really well, and from now on for me, it’s the only way to do country car trips of any distance. So much so that on our return home we had to wait outside in the car for half an hour while we listened to the end of the story!
But I digress.
We left Melbourne at around six a.m, and arrived in Bright around a quarter to ten. The estate agent who had the keys didn’t open till ten, so as we were a bit early we sat outside a coffee shop and watched country life go by.
A couple of customised V8s rumbled past while we sipped our English breakfast teas and scones, then another, then a couple more, then all of a sudden the whole centre of town seemed to be full of them; gleaming shiny 1950s, 60s and 70s monsters throbbing away while the air was full of exhaust and high octane petrol fumes.
We wandered over to the agents and got the keys. While they were doing the paperwork, we asked “Quiet weekend?”
“Ooh no,” they said, “This is the busiest weekend of the year! Hot rod and custom cars from all over the country come here to cruise up and down around the town, have a big party in the city centre which goes all night, and a big car show in the showgrounds. It’s the biggest thing in town!”
Hmm. Having sold my own 8 litre V8 Plymouth Superbird some years ago, my taste in cars had changed, and the thought of being around that much noise and smell for three days didn’t thrill me (or MB!) as much as it once might have. So much for a peaceful weekend.
Luckily being 5 kilometres out, we weren’t bothered too much by the action in the town. Occasionally you’d hear a couple of cars hammering along down the highway, the odd burnout or two, but that was it. We lazed around the cottage all morning; I went for a bike ride down one of the rail-trails in the afternoon while MB read a book and walked the dog.
When I got back she said “I know – how about we get some takeaway fish-and-chips and a bottle of wine for dinner and have it on our laps while we watch a movie.”
By nightfall, there would have been, without a word of exaggeration, several hundred cars and their owners jam-packed into the town’s central shopping precinct and spread out in the surrounding streets.
“Jeez,” said MB, “I’ve never seen so many black t-shirts in one place before!”
We drove as close to the centre as we could, then parked and found the local fish-and-chip shop.
“OK” I said “I’ll tie Charlie up outside and go and order, while you go to the supermarket and get some milk for a cup of tea, some wine and some chocolate to have with the movie. I’ll see you back here.”
The fish-and-chip shop was super busy – it looked like everyone in town had the same idea as us. There were no poles or small trees that I could tie the dog to, but there was a small table and some chairs out the front of the shop, those lightweight aluminium chairs that you see in the interview rooms in Law & Order SVU. The ones that Detective Stabler hurls at suspects! I tied the dog to one of them, then went inside and ordered.
As I waited patiently in the queue, suddenly my number was called. I pushed my way to the counter, and as I did so I could hear laughter, clattering and banging noises, and various sounds of consternation outside. I looked over my shoulder just in time to see the dog trying to follow me into the shop, dragging the chair behind her. Unfortunately she had become entangled in the plastic strip curtain that was keeping the flies out of the shop.
Sensing that all was not going well, she turned around to go back outside the shop, somehow collecting another chair and more of the fly curtain on the way. The curtain let go and crashed onto the pavement, and the dog trotted off down the street looking for MB, still dragging the first chair along with her.
“Look at that poor dog,” MB said to herself as she walked back from the supermarket, loaded up with our supplies.
“Oh shit, it’s my dog! Duncan,” she yelled, “what have you done to the poor dog?” Seeing her favourite owner, the dog accelerated, cutting a swathe through the laughing and cheering crowd as the chair swung behind her from side to side along the pavement!
“Where’s the dog gone?” I thought, as I exited the shop, clutching our dinner and trying not to look at the tipped over chair wrapped in the fly curtain and the upturned table! Looking around I heard someone calling my name and the dog barking with excitement. Uh oh!
It was a quiet ride back to the cottage, with the dog on MB’s lap soaking up the attention, and the two of them staring at me with reproachful eyes. Then we both started laughing and shaking our heads, while the dog surreptitiously tried to rip open the fish-and-chip wrapping paper.
“That bloody dog of yours,” we both said.
***At the very end of the sketch, while Sister Mary Elephant is screaming “SHUDDAAAP!” at the class, you can just hear him saying “Then I got a job…stopping people hanging out in front of the drugstore!”