Come with me for a walk. A sober walk in the city.
Today, let’s forget about the never-ending debate about what makes someone dependent on alcohol, an alcoholic, a dipsomaniac or a teetotaller and simply enjoy what life has to offer. What’s on offer today? A walk in the city where I live, a walk in Melbourne town.
Now, in my past I’ve lived in Sydney, worked in Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Hobart, and visited most of the other big smokes in Australia too, but the place I call home, and have done since I was a wee teenager, is Melbourne.
Melbourne’s where I had my booze-fuelled beginnings, where I did my early drinking and continued party-hearty’n before moving overseas in my twenties (to down me a few pints in London town). Melbourne’s got a great nightlife but it’s also got a great day-life.
We love our cafés in Melbourne and though I live outside the city—about a thirty minute drive from where all the cool coffee spots are—that just means I value it all the more when I get to take a trip into town. Like I did the other day.
And this is what welcomed me at the café of choice for my impromptu lunch without the family.
The big brown bottle is a beer bottle. It holds 750ml of whatever variety of ale you like. Mostly, when I was growing up, that bottle would have had a green sticker on it with ‘Victoria Bitter’ printed on it. Occasionally I might have purchased a brown bottle with a ‘Fosters’ blue label. If nothing else was available maybe I’d have stooped to ‘Melbourne Bitter’ (red). Not often though. I wasn’t a big fan of Melbourne Bitter.
Over the years, and as my tastes evolved, I got onto ‘Cooper’s', another Australian beer brand, but, and this is relevant here, their bottle was a different shape. You see, even without any label the beer bottle holding pure complimentary café water evoked in me a memory of drinking alcohol. Of course it would, I mean it’s a beer bottle after all but, I thought it interesting how, it also evoked in me a sense of brand; which beer I drank. And when.
Then my coffee came.
Nice. And it tasted as good as it looks. I sipped away, pulled out my notebook and started scribbling whatever I imagined was important at the time (I think I was writing jokes for a sit-com I’m working on) and waited for my lunch. Lunch wasn’t long.
See? Told you. The spinach and feta (maybe ricotta?) pie was, like the coffee, as delicious as it looked too. I tried not to rush eating it but as I was due to pick up my father-in-law (who can’t drive at the moment due to his hip-replacement) I didn’t dilly dally either. Ten minutes or less later the veggie-slice delight was gone, and when my coffee was finished too, I had another glass of water, after pouring it from the beer bottle, and ventured outside. Walking along the pavement I caught eye of another beer bottle, though this one was wrapped in a brown paper bag.
Whoever this bottle belonged to was nowhere in sight. I don’t think it was full but it could have been. I didn’t pick it up. I just smiled wryly to myself, thinking about my year of living sober, the beer bottle as a water bottle at the café and now this: the beer bottle of shame; the beer bottle of a street drinker; the beer bottle of a thousand cities.
Walking along (at a good clip—my father-in-law was waiting after all), headed back to my car, I spotted something else which made me stop and again swipe open my camera-phone. Street art. On a wall a couple sprawled, reaching or swinging in space, for what, from what, I wasn’t sure?
Now as I reflect on my sober walk in the city—with a short interval for a spot of lunch—I remember it doesn’t matter I wasn’t sure why I was so captivated, however briefly, by this painting, but that I was captivated. Someone’s art stopped me. And that’s a beautiful thing.
After all, art is what you make of it; the same thing can mean something different to everyone. But I’m sure there’s a reason certain things catch our eyes, and mean something to us only we will ever know.
Like that beer bottle full of water.
Today is Day 261 of my year of living sober.
Little Booze Joke
An astronaut hippy walks into a bar and the barman says “How’s gravity treating you?” and the astronaut says, “Heavy, man. Heavy.”