A Brief Encounter

22 / 05 / 2013

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This month, malady Melbourne sheila Janny Ryan had a brief encounter with an interesting stranger while waiting for the bus in Carlton…

On a recent Monday, case late afternoon, two of us sit and wait in Lygon Street for the bus into town. I’m pleased when she comments that the bus service is pretty good, not because I’m desperate to get into town but because she’s someone I think I’d enjoy talking to.I enquire if she’s a regular user of the service.

“Just on Mondays”, she tells me.

“Ah, the Nova”

“Yes, that and just being in Carlton. I love it. I love the whole European feel, that fabulous cake and coffee place…”



“So you approve of the new one?”

“Of course, it’s wonderful. So European.”

I tell her I overheard a young man in there describe it as a cross between the Starship Enterprise, the QE2 and the Vatican.

“Well, did he like it?” she wants to know.

“I think so, he seemed happy enough.”

“Good, because if he didn’t he could always wander up the road and buy a coffee at one of those 7-eleven places.”

She mentions that she’d grown up in Carlton, in Nicholson Street ­­ “the Fitzroy side”but it’s Carlton Gardens and Lygon Street where she fondly recalls spending a lot of time. She adds that she’d later lived for fifty years in Europe. I’m seriously curious about those Europe years but our discussion is still Carlton-centric.

“I grew up here and I’ll be buried here,” she says, dipping her head northwards to the Melbourne General Cemetery.

I’m used to people saying they love Carlton when I’m asked where, in Melbourne, I live. Country friends and relatives dine in Lygon Street when they’re down for the football, I know of people from Melbourne’s fringes who visit every weekend. Carlton belongs to everyone. And there’s always the cohort who reminisce and regret that their families sold up and moved out, but it’s rarer to meet someone who’s paid to be interred in Carlton. I learn that she now lives in Brighton and, despite two excellent cinemas in Brighton, prefers to travel to the Nova on Mondays and enjoy her old suburb. She often sees two movies on the one day: this day it’s Song for Marion (“not bad”) and Cloud Atlas (“I walked out”). I’d seen the latter film some weeks earlier and told her I’m not sure if I liked it or not but hadn’t walked out. She preferred English actors to American ones.

We see the bus coming and ready ourselves. My walking stick brings a note of recognition. She’s used one herself in the past recovering from hip replacement surgery.

“I’ve had TWO”, she tells me conspiratorially.

I tell her I’m now going into brag mode and indicate my tally with my fingers, adding that I didn’t think I could go through it again. As we get onto the bus she’s effusive in her sympathy – “you poor darling, oh dear” – but I’m over discussions about hip replacements. It’s those fifty years in Europe I want to get back to as we settle in beside each other. We talk surgeons for a bit. Hers is a well known guru in orthopod circles. Mine is less flamboyant, has no bedside manner to speak of, but has served me well. She agrees that skill precedes charm and backs it up with personal experience. When she moved back to Australia she had to find a new GP. She wandered into a local medical practice and whispered to the receptionist, “who’s the best“?

The receptionist quietly recommended so-and-so, adding, “very dour but knows his stuff.

“He’ll do,” she told the receptionist.

To me she adds, “I managed to get a smile out of him.”

Nearing Melbourne Central I ask where she lived in Europe.

“Oh, all over. I was an opera singer. I’ve still got my voice, I’m 79 but I could sing Aida tomorrow.”

As we get off the bus she tells me to be careful. And I say the same back. We exchange first names. She hopes, as I do, that we run into each other sometime at the Nova.

She heads south along Swanston Street and I note her near perfect gait and imagine her holding audiences captive in Covent Garden, La Scala… I also vow to go and see Aida the next time it comes to town.