Wednesday, January 15, 2014


M is for Milkbar from John Brennan's
A is for Australia: a photographic alphabet for children (1984)

When I was in Melbourne at the end of 2009 after I'd been thrown out of England I was housesitting for a friend of mine. There was a great cafe just around the corner. It had once been a milkbar, which is what people from my bit of Australia call corner shops. Outside there were warped, sun-bleached tables and upside-down milk-crates to sit on. It had been coming up for winter when I'd left Cambridge but here it was 40 degrees and I was watering tomato plants naked in my friend's tiny courtyard garden, fruit bulging among the last of the exhausted leaves. 

I don't remember what the cafe was called. Something that recalled its milk-bar past. I used to go down there every day and once I got over the tear-jerking euphoria that comes in your cup of Melburnian coffee, I'd chat to the baristas and the guy out the back who did the eggs. We'd laugh about the weather and Britney Spears and discuss each other's hair, because one of the baristas had fantastic blue hair in a tight, structured cut and tattoos to match. She was wildly beautiful and while we talk about hair I could look at her as much as I liked. 

It is so easy and ordinary and mine, this place. Brutally uninterrogated. The belonging right through the door. They look like me, talk like me, laugh like me. Their conventions are my conventions and irony hatches from the same scrambled subversions. No-one asks me where I am from. 

Some days it makes me feel light-headed and I am struck by the fact that it seems unearned somehow. Which it is, of course, these simplest and most transparent primer-coats of privilege. I wonder suddenly if my bright, tight, leathery feelings of home in England are just an artifact of being much harder-won than these that fray so neatly into the seams of the cushion on this milk-crate in a Melbourne summer. 

After a year in Berlin I will not wonder about this any more. 

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