Tuesday, June 5, 2012

That crazy chicken

The other day I was driving Ms 4 to ballet. We were almost there when she started her usual preamble, "I wonder which side the crazy chicken is going to be on?" She knows which side the chicken will be on but she always asks anyway. The crazy chicken is a giant mascot sitting up high in front of a Toyota dealership near the ballet school. It has huge bulbous eyes that usually roll around inside its head, with the pupils oscillating. Sometimes the eyes get stuck and the chicken is either blind (whites only) or looking in a particular direction. It never fails to make Ms 4 squeal with laughter. Today she said, "Oh! It's stopped! It's playing musical statues!" After ballet, there is more commentary from the back seat as we pass the chicken on the way home.

I don't know what it is about the chicken that appeals to her funny bone. Maybe it's the ridiculousness of a giant chicken. Maybe it's the rolling eyes. Maybe it's the excitement she feels each time we approach her ballet class. Maybe it's just a Thing now and she can't remember why it was so funny to begin with. Maybe it's just the wonder of being four. But damn, I'm going to miss that crazy chicken.

We leave the country to make a new home overseas in just over five weeks. That chicken got me to thinking about all the little (and big) things that I will miss about Newcastle, so I decided to make a list. Self-indulgent? Possibly. But it's been on my mind so here it is.

  • The Merewether Surfhouse corn fritters (oh and the amazing view) - I've only eaten them once but it was love at first bite. You know when you just KNOW.
  • The simplicity and elegance of the Fernleigh Track - a disused rail corridor that runs for 17km through people's backyards and bushland. I'll miss riding my bike under (mostly) shade while listening to podcasts of This American Life. Even the ride back uphill isn't that steep - if a cargo train can make it, you know you can do it on a bike.  The nod of recognition from fellow cyclists even though most of them have passed me, have turned around and are now on their way back. I'll miss the long walks and talks on the track that I've done with my dear friend Jayne - discussing everything from the mysteries of the universe to the problem with apostrophe situations (which may well be one and the same thing).  Newcastle Council really got something right with the Fernleigh.
  • Movies at the most dilapidated cinema in town - I'd wager in the country actually. The seats are the original seats from when it opened in the early 70s. You sit back and the whole row lurches. The bins are covered in rust. The roof leaks. The whole place has seen better days. But there is an inexplicably large powder room before you go into the main (brown-tiled) bathroom. And it has a licensed bar. And it shows the only arthouse movies in town. I'll miss my Tuesday-night $11 tickets with Curly and Curly. (I'm the third Curly, we're like the three stooges only we're all called Curly).
  • The proliferation of Portlandia-like "put a bird on it" boutiques that have sprung up around the tattoo parlours and brothels in town. You go hipsters.
  • The fact that three wedding shops next to each other are called the "wedding precinct." It's even written in the banners flying outside the shops. How cute is that? 
  • My little patch of backyard, my little 90-year-old house, with it's original fireplaces and ornate ceilings. 
  • Walking my son across the road to school every day, being able to hear the first bell go and yell "Come on! The bell's gone!" and still make it for the second bell. Being able to do the reverse in the afternoons.
  • Being two blocks from the little local shops - banks, post office, the best bakery in Newcastle, newsagent, hairdressers, supermarket, butcher, fruit shop. Knowing the shopkeepers. Being able to run to the shops while my husband is cooking beef stroganoff and be back in time to add the mushrooms I've just bought.
  • Living five minutes drive from a world-class hospital - even though I hope we won't need it as much as we have over the past five years - yes, I will miss that.
  • The theatre. Local productions - being in them, seeing them, every one I  know knowing at least one person in the cast.
  • Winning stuff on the radio - it's easier in rural locations! You can actually get through sometimes! I've been on a Hunter Valley Feast (lunch) through a competition won by Newy twitter friends, won tickets to Elmo (although possibly the lines were clear that day  because no one else wanted to impersonate Elmo live on air!); and won tickets to the (aforementioned) cinema.
  • Talking on the radio - I interviewed my son on his first day of school and they played it on air, I debated Bettina Arndt about her views - both on local abc radio. Not to mention the number of times I've called in just to have a chat/espouse my view on this or that.
  • ABC Newcastle  - it deserves its own dot points - just being so connected to the local community through the radio, it's something I've never experienced before. They know what they're doing over there. 
  • Having all my friends within a 10 (15 max) minute drive. 
  • The beaches - oh, the beaches! And I am not a beach person. The canoe pool at dusk, the baths (Merewether and Newcastle), the vistas. The art deco beach houses. The fact that you can get a park within easy walking distance (sometimes even right in front!) and it doesn't cost you an arm and a  leg.
  • Lambton pool. Even when it's packed and I am trying not to think about the number of kids weeing in it and how many molecules of bacteria there would be per square millimetre. The kids love it so much.
  • The parks - Lambton park, Gregson with its gigantic trees so you are always in shade, Centennial -  my kids grew up playing in these parks. 
  • The cafes - Goldbergs is the reason my husband wanted to move to Newcastle! - Darby St, Honeysuckle, Peaberrys, Sprout, Estebar, there's no shortage of good food.
  • The culture - the fab museum, the art gallery, the libraries. All free, all easy to take kids to, all welcoming.
  • The fact that I can still go to great events like Tedx because some one in Newcastle (Siobhan Curran to be exact) has had the vision and the heart to stage it in Newy. 
  • The community - the two degrees of separation that Newcastle seems to operate from.
  • The Hunter Valley Gardens at Christmas.
  • The vibe of the place.
  • And of course that damn crazy chicken.
Oh god. I just read through the list again. Do we really have to go?