We Have a Winner

December 4, 2007 at 7:47 am (Uncategorized)

Whilst we’re on the subject of blood relatives, today is Nana’s 84th birthday. She’s the second and, aside from my sister’s kids, final blood relation I have anything to do with. I have taken her out for her birthday every year for a number of years, and today was no exception. We were joined by the ‘surrogate mother’ I told you about yesterday, who, whilst probably not a surrogate daughter in Nana’s mind, has stepped into that void on countless occasions just by being kind and generous enough to be there.

The three of us met up at the Labour Club on Alison Rd in Randwick. Not really my scene, I must admit (although clubs are fascinating), but Nana was keen. She’s the birthday girl, you know, so there was no argument from me. The food was exactly as you’d expect and so was the decor, but there’s something truly fabulous about that, something utterly uncanny in the Freudian sense, just like the deeply satisfying familiarity of your next motel room. These (very particular and very, very Aussie) clubs are so comforting, somehow, and I love that I know exactly what’s going to be on the menu before I even walk in the door. Besides which, they remind me of my granddad. He was a club man. A member of the Bondi Diggers, the North Bondi RSL, the Bondi SLSC, the Masons and more… his was the age of clubs, men and clubs, and I found it thrilling as a child and later to enter these hallowed sites with him. Since he’s been gone the thrill has remained unexpectedly intact, perhaps because in a funny way I always still feel like I’m with him.

Anyway, I’m getting off topic (nostalgia always tricks me into saying too much). Back at the Labour Club, I had to go to the bathroom whilst we were waiting for our friend, so I went up to Level 2 as directed from Reception and there they were just outside the lifts: pokies.

Pokies are so sad and strange. I just don’t understand the appeal. And yet at 12:30 pm, the room was full of all sorts of people sitting in front of those flickering lights waving their money goodbye. And that clanging white noise the machines make as they’re relieving you of your cash is a whole other level of torture – how can people listen to that for the afternoon? Why doesn’t it drive them screaming from the building? How can it be hypnotic when it’s so grating?

I just kept my head down and marched purposefully to the toilet. For some reason, I always feel like it’s slightly indecent to watch people at the pokies, as though I think they’d be ashamed of themselves if they looked up and realised I had ‘caught’ them, red-handed, right there plugging their credit card through or however the hell it works these days (Granddad used to have a brilliant poker machine in his bar at home. It accepted 10 cent pieces, weighed a tonne, and was beyond exciting when we were kids. Naturally we broke it). But maybe it’s not something they’re embarrassed about at all. Maybe it’s just me who thinks there’s something cringe-worthy about sitting by yourself in a room with no natural light on a little stool pouring money into a machine. There’s no conversation. There’s no laughter. In fact in terms of pokie etiquette, there doesn’t seem to be any interaction between punters at all. They’re all too busy staring at the lines of fruit and treasure chests and, um, pirates.

Another lady came in to use the toilet as I was washing my hands. She was wearing enormous dark sunglasses, and just quietly I bet they’re part of her regulation pokies kit. Maybe all those flashing lights trigger headaches or fits if you’re in there long enough? That seems perfectly plausible to me. Frankly the whole room felt like one raging health hazard. I wondered if maybe she’d just come up from Reception too, but I doubted it. She looked too… disconnected. That dazed half stagger over to the paper towel was a dead giveaway.

I almost ran back to the lifts. I honestly felt claustrophobic just crossing the room. And aren’t they bored? It just seemed so deathly dull. So anti-social. So expensive, too, judging from the dead look in their eyes. Boy, was I happy to get back to Reception. We took the elevator to level 4 and there was the menu, just as I’d imagined it. Calm was restored, and that clang clang clang soundtrack gradually receded from memory as I debated the merits of schnitzel over prawn cutlets…

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