The morning I was to fly here to Canberra, my sister gave birth to her first child. However since then, with the exception of a short visit from my parents in late April, my only contact with family and friends has been via phone or email. So, with the six-month milestone looming for my contract here, I boarded a plane and flew back to Melbourne last week.
Because fog is always a risk in Canberra, the first flight out (6:30am) is the only failsafe, and as such, was packed to the gills. It was a beautiful, clear morning flying out, and peering through the porthole-sized windows, I watched the day start to unfold as the sun struck out across the landscape below. Wispy fog snaked eerily through river valleys as it rose from the water surface, and a number of snow-capped peaks shone whitely in the bright morning daylight.
It wasn’t to remain that way however, as low cloud met us at the Victoria/New South Wales border. As we got closer to Melbourne and began our descent, I could see the fog sweeping inland, coursing along the valleys and tumbling over ridges like a glacier moving in reverse. As we got closer and closer to the white fluffy stuff, I found myself wondering how it was possible to land in fog in Melbourne, but not in Canberra, and as the plane sank softly into the mass of cloud and the sunlight disappeared, I braced myself for the jolt of wheels on tarmac that must surely follow.
A minute or so later and we dropped out of the bottom of the sea mist, to reveal Melbourne, still several thousand feet below us and at its gloomiest, greyest best. I had forgotten how big Melbourne airport is by comparison to Canberra, which is really little more than a glorified country air strip, and although tempted to linger there for a while, decided it wasn’t really worth it. Melbourne airport used to have some great observation decks where you could go outside and watch the planes taking off and landing, and if memory serves, they even had a few of those tourist binoculars mounted on stands. Even if the airport hadn’t undergone substantial re-modelling in recent years that ultimately closed off access to these observation decks, I suspect that in George Bush’s Australia, such a vantage point wouldn’t be permitted.
So I hopped a Super Shuttle, bound for the heart of Melbourne. Since being in Canberra I’ve become less aware of traffic, and in particular peak hour, because in Canberra, peak hour means you might have to wait 30 seconds before getting a clear break to cross three lanes of traffic. The shuttle ground to a halt before we even got off the Tulla, and I looked out the front of the bus to see a river of cars, trucks, vans and buses streaming into the city. One point for Canberra I guess.
As we got moving again and the city skyline loomed into view, there was an odd sense of both familiarity and distance with this town. The skyline loomed large and I could see from a long way out that the Eureka tower is nearing completion, yet despite having familiar points around which to orient myself, I couldn’t shake the feeling I’d seen it all before. Possibly because I had seen it, numerous times, over my thirteen years of residency here, and I found myself wondering how it had held my interest so strongly in the past.
I spent the day criss-crossing Melbourne, meeting for coffee, lunch, and eventually drinks of the alcoholic variety, trying to catch up with as many people as I possibly could in the brief time I had available. I also caught up with my accountant, who always manages to put a smile on my face at this time of year when he completes my tax return.
After spending the night at my brother and his girlfriend’s place, I rolled on down to Warrnambool on the West Coaster, and over the next two days caught up with the immediate family. Mum had spent a week traveling around her childhood haunts and literally arrived home only ten minutes before I did.
On the Sunday afternoon, Kate, Richard and Maggie dropped around for lunch, and the first ten minutes of their arrival was filled with incomprehensible babble from all the adults in the house (except myself), directed at Maggie, who just looked at each of them in utter confusion, wondering what the hell it was they were trying to say, and wishing they’d just talk normally…oh wait, that last bit was me.
Maggie has grown significantly in the six months since I last saw her, and despite having a condition called reflux, has still managed to pack on a lot of weight. The long and the short of it is, she hurls at regular intervals after feeding, and being told I was the only one in the family to not have caught a mouthful didn’t exactly warm me to the idea of holding her, regardless of how cute she is (and she is very cute). Long dark eyelashes protrude half an inch from her lids, she has big balloon cheeks, and a cheeky grin I expect will become a forewarning of mischief afoot as she gets older.
Despite the prospect of wearing some regurgitated food, I did hold Maggie on numerous occasions. She’s at an age where she no longer likes being cradled—she has to be able to look around and see what’s going on—and if anyone tries to hold her in a cradle position she struggles and cries until they hold her in a way that gives her a satisfying point of view. Basically, I guess she’s grown sick of gazing up into the various bat caves of the family, and wants to see something a bit more interesting. The only exception to this I suspect, is her morning feed of boobs, where she’ll happily be cradled.
Because of the way she prefers to be held now, it means one hand is inevitably in the drop zone should she chuck, something Dad managed to get first hand experience of. She did throw up just once, and only a small torrent, when I was holding her, yet by accident, more than design, I got away clean, because when I’d picked her up, my hand was behind her bib, which took the brunt for me. Of course, carrying Maggie around like that for any extended period, eventually leads to a case of the supporting arm losing sensation due to excessive build up of lactic acid. It’s odd, my sister used to give my brother and I dead arms when we were kids, and now twenty something years on, she’s doing it again.
Now, I’m back in Canberra, and it feels as though the last five days didn’t really happen, that I just dreamed them. It’ll be Christmas at least before I get back there again, and no doubt Maggie will have grown even more. All of a sudden I’ve become acutely aware of time passing, and I’m well and truly ready to move on now.