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The Hill

October 24, 2011

Although the day would turn out hot, in the morning the sky was overcast and mist still clung to the treetops as I walked up the street. Local papers wrapped in plastic lay on all the driveways like misplaced doormats. Each cover showed the same smiling face of the north shore’s “pigeon pastor”, the Anglican minister and pigeon racing enthusiast, holding one of his birds.

A woman with wet hair passed me, a chocolate Labrador on a lead beside her. She half smiled and looked away too quickly to catch my own half smile in return. If someone has a dog around here, it is usually a Labrador.
Further up the street, I passed an old man who was holding a loaf of bread in a plastic bag. He swung it by its tail as he wished me good morning. He had good reason to be cheerful, as he was going down the hill. The hill is the obstacle I must face every time I want to leave. When I was a teenager and would lie in bed thinking about how I could escape Turramurra, the hill loomed in my imagination. There would be no escape without struggle.
The few guests I’ve had to visit me here haven’t understood my preoccupation with the hill. It is steep, sure, but it is no Everest. It takes only five minutes to climb it. At the top of it there is a view across the western suburbs, which at night winks with lights. I have always made a point of looking across this view before I descend, one last farewell glance.

On the ascent, I feel I am straining against more than just the incline. There is a psychic boundary to cross. At the top of the street is the highway, streaming with cars on their way elsewhere. I press the button at the lights and sit on the park bench waiting for the signals to change. The week before I’d seen a man sitting on this bench who had devised an ingenious solution to hair loss. Obviously bald on top, he had grown his remaining hair long enough to tie up in a high ponytail on top of his head. Then he combed the tail part down over his forehead to form a fringe. While it was not convincing, it was innovative.

There are a lot of elderly people here. In my previous writings on Turramurra, I speculated that I have more in common with them than people my own age. I see women of my age walking Labradors, marshalling children, driving Land Rovers, buying full trolleys of groceries in the supermarket. They move with the kind of efficiency which excludes all whimsy. The elderly sit on benches and watch people go by before slowly making their way to the library.

*

At the top of the hill I spy a scrub turkey scratching in the grass next to the driveway of a large house. Its huge claws loudly rake through the dried leaves. I am always surprised to see these birds, like they are tiny dinosaurs on the loose. I stop and stare at this one and it stops scratching and stares back at me. We note each others’ presence and go back to our business.

I have ascended the hill so early on a Saturday morning to attend the church flea market, the highlight of the year in Turramurra. By the time it opens at 8:30, a huge queue has formed, stretching back into the carpark. As a temporary local, I decided I would leave early and try and get to the front of the queue. When I get there two people are already waiting, sitting on the steps, reading. The first person is a woman reading a Herman Hesse paperback, next is a man reading a thick John Connolly novel. I take my place after them, and a few moments later, three more people arrive, two Nanas and a grandson. The Nanas are the practical type with short grey hair and three quarter pants and sensible blouses. The grandson has long hair and is wearing a baggy brown jumper. I can see the big stitches where he has repaired the neck of his t-shirt, which is covered in magpies. All three of them having matching thermo cups which they drink from rapidly.

I listen to their conversation, wondering if I should join it. I decide I look too weird and they might not take kindly to my intrusion. I am wearing all black except for white socks with black hearts on them. This isn’t a particularly weird outfit in 2011, but Turramurra is pretty behind, and at my age I’m meant to be sensible and not dress like a goth 8 year old.
The Nanas are instructing the boy on the layout of the bric a brac hall. He hasn’t been to the flea market before and they are building up his expectations. “What are you looking for?” they ask him. A guitar amp, he says – he’s in a band. He’s cute with his ragged clothes and baby face, hanging out with his grandmas. After they brief him on the best way to navigate the flea market, the Nanas start telling him about the beautiful rose garden around the corner, and he listens patiently.

I have been waiting for some time now, my own expectations building. I’d found some good things at this flea market, years ago. All the good stuff goes in the first five minutes, so you need to be prepared to grab anything good the moment you see it. I started to wish I’d bought some rescue remedy as I needed some “relief from feelings of stress”. I have doubts that Rescue Remedy actually does anything, but it is fortifying to the spirit. Even if I had brought it, I would have felt self conscious about squeezing a few droplets onto my tongue. Perhaps it could be a useful intimidation technique. Perhaps I should be doing stretches to prepare for the negotiation of the bric a brac hall…

The doors open and I stride inside. For that moment, where all the stuff still lies on the table, undisturbed, I feel the great potential of all this unwanted junk, laid out for me to pick through. But after a moment of scanning, I realise that this year, there isn’t much old stuff anymore. Anything collectable has been filtered out, or maybe the interesting old stuff has just dried up. People flood in after me and soon the hall is full of people scrabbling through the things. I grab a cookie jar in the shape of a bear and head out of there.

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