I visited Labassa last Sunday in Caulfield North. It shares something slight in common with ‘Colditz’ and Williams Rd in that it was divided up for most of the last century into a lodging house. It is a labyrinth of doorways and tiny bathrooms. About half the rooms are ornate and the rest resemble a dilapidated terrace house. It took fully two hours to find my way around with confidence.
There was an interesting-looking woman wandering around with whom I felt I might talk. We had exchanged glances a few times, and eventually I sat next to her in a room on the first floor around a table bearing books of photographs. (The best of these showed Whelan the Wrecker demolishing a 1960s house built in Labassa’s forecourt.) She got up, then sat down again next to me on the other side. Immediately, a thin, middle-aged bore monopolised her in conversation. I overheard her name: D. It was so frustrating I had to leave for the back garden and ‘tea rooms.’
The back ‘garden’ overlaid an ancient tennis court of which only the pavilion remained. Ants ran around madly on bricks like Picnic at Hanging Rock. I sat at a table for two among the usual National Trust types and slightly rougher former tenants. I ordered black tea and scones (as distinct from green tea) only for the order to come without milk. Then D appeared again, wandering around, looking for a place. From behind me I heard a voice asking, ‘do you mind if I sit here?’ I said yes automatically, only to discover it issued from a wizened former tenant who sat down and prattled incessantly. D had meanwhile taken up a place in the tennis pavilion. I left shortly thereafter, defeated.
At the tram stop I was joined by the middle-aged bore and his wife. I busied myself in my notebook and felt relief when they caught the next tram and I stayed put. I walked down to my 1980s neighborhood in Carlisle St and tried to remember where the secondhand shop was where I bought a washed-out GE black and white TV for $15; maybe Newton’s Home Electrical and Radio Service at number 143? I bought a roasted half chicken and walked to the Holy Trinity church that F and I identified from Lano and Woodley in better days.
(I later looked up my old digs at Balston St at the SLV, trying to find the surname of old Harry who lived with his ailing wife in the semi-detached next door. The old bloke had a 1965 blue Valiant Safari station wagon with his initials on the number plate: something like HVM. But the last Sands and McDougall had been published in 1974, and Harry and his wife had yet to appear. His old place is available for rent at the moment, a near hovel at $550 a week.)
A charmless young woman and her friends stood needlessly blocking the doorway of the tram home, the sort of people who treat public transport like a theme park. She held forth with sibilant enunciation about a range of topics, mainly her rights as a motorist over cyclists and her means of coping with crowds.