Sunday, November 11, 2012

The fable of the five bricks

"Coburg," said Winston Churchill, "is a riddle wrapped in a mystery hidden in an enigma." Then again, maybe he was talking about China. Who knows? I used to live there and I'm more confused about the place than ever. Not China, I mean, Coburg. (See?)  Except, in the case of the Melbourne suburb of Coburg, it is more a market on top of a display village in place of a disused jail hiding a rubbish dump. But maybe I should explain...

We were in the sunny suburb of Coburg yesterday, the Baron and I. We happened to be looking for five bricks - although that is not why we were in Coburg. That was just a coincidence. We were really there to visit the nursery that had an open day, on the way from CERES in Northcote to the shops selling vinegar in Thomastown before stopping to get brewing supplies in Epping. Obvious, really.

Wending our way up Sydney Road, we turned to drive around the old Pentridge Jail, which by the time I first got to Melbourne had its name changed to Pentridge Piazza, but now has had a name change on its name change and is called Pentridge Village. Bland advertising posters everywhere proclaimed what a nice place it was to live in: '... so individual!... so friendly!... so close!....' Once a jail, always a jail, I guess.

Shortly we found ourselves in a labyrinth of streets, none going particularly in the direction we wanted them to, and some going in directions I have never encountered before. Dusty piles of refuse surrounded us, and we drove past stately developments that were in various states of undevelopment. It slowly occurred to us that we had no idea where we were. (The fact that it had a name, Coburg, only made our confusion all the more confusing.) In some yards, huge mounds of bricks loomed prominently, though with no building project evident. It was about this time that we remembered our need for five bricks, and we pulled in to one site (titled 'Refuse Transit Centre', or something like that). It was much like the others in every respect, with particularly enticing piles of bricks and humps of garbage tottering every which way, and a coating of soil attractively arranged on everything in order to give it an enticing sheen.

Standing in the middle of this ambiguous yard of unknown location, was a small man of uncertain nationality, indefinite purpose, improbable identity, and dubious legality. He looked as likely to know something about this place as anyone else, so the Baron boldly walked up to him. The conversation, I'm told, went more or less like this:

BARON: Hello. 

MAN: What? 

BARON: Do you work here? 

MAN: What do you want? 

BARON: Um... would we be able to collect five bricks? 

MAN: Fifty cents a brick!

At this, we decided we might as well collect our five bricks there as anywhere else. As we were loading up the car with bricks, the Man (I might as well call him Man) standing around in the yard got a call on his phone. With his habitual charm, he began shouting down the phone at whoever was on the other end. Perhaps wary of offending his visitors, he shortly walked as far away from us as possible in order to shout even louder into the phone, standing in front of a door with flaking green paint attached to a dilapidated white fibro shack.

It doesn't take long to collect five bricks, and soon the Baron and I began sorting out through our pockets for loose change. Man continued bellowing pleasantries down his mobile phone, and I had shortly fished the two dollars fifty out of my pockets. I walked up to Man to settle our accounts, and, seeing me approach, he began turning around in a half circle, until he was more facing the door than me. (He didn't even seem to hold out his hand for money.) I eventually managed to press the coins into his right hand, and we jumped back in the car and had soon found ourselves on a back street leading in to Reservoir.

So look, basically, I have no idea where we were, what the place was supposed to be doing, whether we paid the right money to the wrong man or the wrong money to the right man for the wrong thing, or anything about it at all really. But we did get our bricks.


Anonymous said...

But what are the bricks for?

TimT said...

A good question! I must find out some time!

TimT said...

Maybe we wanted to lash them together to create a concrete kite?

Or make a tiny house to rent out to a very humble person?

TimT said...

Or (smaller version of)...

Anonymous said...


Email: timhtrain - at -

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