New in town [July 30]
I’ve never had the courage to move to a new town. I’ve thought about it often, perused property listings in warmer places, fantasised about fresh starts. Stayed put. So I admire and envy people who take the plunge. How do they make those new friendships that are so vital for our sociable species?
This July I have been in Mildura on a four-week writing residency. I could have stayed behind closed doors, used my writing project as an excuse to be anti-social. But I was curious about this town and its folk. So I put the lead on the dog and began walking the streets.
One morning I came across an elegant older woman pacing the footpath. ‘I’ve lost my phone’, she said. ‘Dropped it out here somewhere’. I offered to call her number, but we couldn’t hear the phone ringing. ‘I’m new in town’, she told me. ‘Don’t know anyone here. I really need that phone.’
By coincidence we crossed paths again later that day, walking down by the Murray River. ‘Oh it’s you!” she smiled. ‘Thanks for your help.’ She’d found the phone inside her house – phew. Again she mentioned being new in town and asked if I walked this path regularly. ‘No, I’m just a blow-in’, I replied and we went our separate ways.
It took a few hours but eventually the penny dropped. Why hadn’t I suggested we walk together?
A few days later I searched online for Mildura singing groups. What better way to find company? The Sunraysia Community Choir invited me to their next Wednesday rehearsal. In a church hall I was given folders of music, a mug of Milo and a warm welcome.
‘Our next concert is called Sing Your Socks Off’, whispered the soprano next to me. ‘We’re going to toss rolled up pairs of socks into the audience while we’re singing.’ The choir has about fifty members, the oldest in his nineties. When the rhythms were tricky our conductor, a music teacher from Zimbabwe, danced them for us. When we sang Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ we raised the roof. After rehearsal some of them took me out for a vino. I drove home round midnight, humming.
If the elegant walking woman in Mildura is reading this, I’m sorry I didn’t suggest a walk. You might like to head down to the church hall next Wednesday evening. Oh, and take a spare pair of socks.
(This column was first published in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald in July 2018)