8th December 2018.
Hankering for an icy Euro-Yule this wilting pom can hear the night tinkle of a solstice bell. The mog with the tinsel collar’s abroad. Mousing. Other timely hints – perhaps the thrumming cicada racket and the purple blossoming jacarandas – have Ricky and Izzy at the end of the street draining the Victoria grid. Their weatherboard home and garden festooned and twinkling. Coloured lights, blinking stars and plastic dazzle trees all reflect in Hobnails the brushtail possum’s peepers.
I’ve no wish to sound pernickety during these heated days of festive cheer, however I do tend to wallow in the traditional. Like shopping malls resounding to ‘The Fairytale of New York’ or ‘Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer’ rather than some dude wearing a Nazi-style hat and a gas mask whanging harsh chords on an electric axe, offering passers-by heavy metal lessons.
Such ruckus aside, Melbourne’s seasonal efforts are most admirable. But there’s always a ‘but’. And today the ‘but’ has been huge from the moment, clutching a Evian water and cheese heavy shopping basket, I emerged from behind a Woolworths display of Aussie festive trees that imitate car wash brushes. Clocking me, Chirpy Pete, stocky in employee carrot-nosed snowman T-shirt, took a time-out from rough-chucking bags of spuds. “Hey brother (in a figurative manner of greeting), wish these were heads of management!”
“Those Sebagos make a good substitute, eh?”
We’d grinned conspiratorially before I wandered out into the thirty-eight degrees, in which the shrieks of parrot-kind were interpretable as bush fire warnings, and went in search of both city and the missus. We’d agreed to share in an annual Melburnian custom. Us and an estimated million and a half others.
On CBD’s Bourke Street, a sweaty puddle of swaying Santa-hatted office party wassailers giving ‘Good King Wenceslas’ hell didn’t seem as incongruous as a certain individual being passed-off as ‘Carroll’s’ at Christmas. Behind a pane of shop front glass, a nattily dressed animatronic critter in waistcoat and tie sagged hunched at the Mad Hatter’s table. Because of it the lengthy street queue gawking at the beautiful-gorgeous Myer ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Christmas window display hit a small bottleneck.
The cause: a bratling aged about seven or eight pointing between Hatter and March Hare. She chewed her bottom-lip out of indecision. “What is it, mum? An anteater?”
“Love, I don’t know… Going by its pointy Piglet ears, could be an aardvark.”
“Mhmm-mhmm. Nose is too funny.”
Next in line the missus and me couldn’t help but overhear plus notice the bratling had a point. “How about an armadillo?” I suggested.
“Ssh. You and and your armadillos,” the missus chided. “Our new neighbour’s mega nine-candle Happy Chanukah menorah stuck to the family car roof wasn’t reason to ask him where his armadillo suit was.”
I defended myself. “It was in harmless jest. Didn’t mean Jacob to get hot under the kippa. C’mon, everybody remembers ‘The Holiday Armadillo’. Classic ‘Friends’. Ross dressed-up as an armadillo for a kiddies Christmas party ‘cos it was the only fancy dress left. ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ Immortal. Chanukah, Hanukkah, same thing. Anyway, armadillo or not, that should be a dormouse. You know, small, furry-cute? Ears round and delicate?”
Mum and bratling turned to face us. “No way it’s a dormouse!” exclaimed mum. “Look at the claws poking out it’s cuffs. Reckon Myer’s gone and scraped the barrel of their props department.”
“Agreed. That dormouse pretender is…,” I brain-wracked for the right word, “a simulcrum.”
“What’s a SIM-milk-crumb?” asked the bratling.
“It means an unsatisfactory substitute.”
The mum grinned like a Cheshire cat, “The man means a crap understudy, darlin’. Like… like a weedy seadragon playing Chopper… or your dad playing baby Jesus.”
Surely, in the sixty-third consecutive season of Myer Christmas Animated Windows the prop wallahs and window dressers couldn’t be so lame. Not when flamingoes were clearly flamingoes and dodos, dodos. And not when a narrator’s voice on loudspeaker pushed the notion that the Myer Dormouse was ever so a dormouse: “March Hare and the Hatter were having tea… a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head.” Pushed into a corner I had to contemplate a slavish replication of someone else’s artistic licence.
“Come on. Come on! Keeping moving along, please!” came the impatient plead of a Constant Security yellow jacket. The missus and I did as told, dripping away to Google-sleuth.
And there, on the web, she was. Rébecca Dautremer. A creative forty-something. A French lass. Seemingly neither a naturalist nor giving a fiddler’s about rigeur, her take on Carroll’s classic arrived in bookshops a mere three years ago. The ‘dormousey’ clawed thingamabob that popped into her noggin might, however, fit better in ‘Wizarding World’. Only in my humble opinion, of course. Even odds Lewis Carroll aka the mathematical Charles Dodgson would’ve applauded madame. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ isn’t to be read as a logical tome.
Maybe, regarding substitutes Aussies are simply mould breakers. Shane Warne, for example, is probably dead chuffed ‘The Gatting Ball’ has morphed into a racehorse now trundling the country’s gallops.
The undisputed truth, spuds or not, the Twenty-fifth promises to be a roaster. Ring out that solstice bell, cat, I say, as I go kick out the Christmas beetles merrily decking the hall.
Happy Christmas, indeed. Happy Chanukah. Happy Whatever.
Illustrations & text © 2018 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.