Those two railway bridges: Grosvenor St and Nightingale St. I would start on the south bluestone wall of Grosvenor, do six laps, right-to-left and left-to-right, then move onto the north side, slightly harder in the last half. Then if my fingers had any skin left, I’d go up to Nightingale St and work on the north side from the left — the south side had all this hardware clogging it, street signs and other rubbish. That north side was always the hardest thing I’d climbed, not sure if even out on real rock, in the Grampians or Guangdong, I climbed anything harder. The repetition appealed to me, same thing over and over, having a relationship with the rock. I’d tape my fingertips to get through the last laps, but in the end it was attrition, my skin would give out first. In winter, the first lap or two would be agony as the cold rock cut in, harder to climb but something proper in enduring it. There’s more graffiti now, about the same amount of dirt and clag, a few marks of chalk, unlikely to be my leftovers, even though they mark my route. Emile walked with me as I traced my moves, memory in physicality, movement, emotion.
April 12, 2004. I took a photo of my fingers crimping a small, diagonal edge in the sunlight. I blogged it as Edge of Doom. It was the start of the last tough string of moves before finishing the right-to-left traverse, a deeply satisfying hold and one reliably likely to spit me off the wall. March 27, 2018, I’m standing there with Emile, walking alongside the wall remembering all the holds and moves. I haven’t seen or touched these trio of walls in more than ten years, but the memory — physical, mental, emotional — feels like those ten years were snipped out and time on either side stitched together. With a pair of climbing shoes it would have been an immediate return to that familiar rock. It’s also easier than the Scienceworks wall. The hardest parts of Nightingale St, the horrible slopers and awkward combination of edges, gastons, and that very weird thumb-push from underneath keeping me attached just long enough to slap through — a wall I never completed even though I strung together individual sections — are around the average of Scienceworks wall. I’d love to come back and spend some weeks just doing laps on all these.
Finishing the loop of Carlisle St, Emile telling me of Sinch, the graffiti artist who died riding outside a train, Balaclava his local area, old tags and pieces by his brother still covering the suburb. Pause Bar, where I got drunk on red wine with Bonnie more than once, when both of us were in town. The art on the railway bridge, there since the ’80s. Less change here than other parts of town, still open-mouthed in shock at what’s happened to South Yarra, which I saw passing through on the train. A crane low on the skyline building where the service station used to be, next to the fruit and vegetable shop with the deli out the back, my regular, now a 24-hour gym (the old hardmen place across the road still there though), a crane propping up another of those shit apartment blocks that looks like it would fold under the slightest tremor. Ten years — more than ten years since the last time I was in Balaclava, my home in Melbourne if I ever had one.
Walking back along Carlisle St, Emile telling me about which shops have changed, which remain. This one has remained since the beginning, original copper window frames, Cerulean Blue tiles, only the stained-glass windows above missing. The owner was coming out as we stood there, and told us its history. Old Balaclava still here.
Emile said the Greyhound had been razed a while back, quick and dirty. Shit new pour-and-tilt apartments about to go up on the empty mouth of land it occupied, the kind that look old and shabby within a year. We stood on the corner opposite. Close enough for me. I crawled out the doors of that sublime, 163-year-old Art Deco pub more than once. The best dukebox in Melbourne. Everyone from bikers to drag queens went there to drink and everyone didn’t get up in anyone else’s business. Proper rough East St. Kilda, scary to walk through the door of the first time, and like home every time after. Fuck capitalism and fuck the bottom feeders who suck up the rot flaking off the 1%, shitting out on the rest of us.
Emile took me on a walk along Carlisle St, to see the changes. After seeing what happened in South Yarra (entire city of skyscrapers built in the last 10 years), I was having much culture shock. Glick’s. The best bagels anywhere. I used to buy the carroway seed ones, fill with cheese, and other delicacies, and eat when I got home after climbing, coffee, and shopping. Old Glick died recently, he used to serve me occasionally. On a Friday he’d be talking with everyone coming in for Shabbat. The place expanded next door, twice as big now, but still white tiles and utilitarian. Still the best bagels.
My old local. Many afternoons there post-climb, or with Emile, Jo, and others. So much coffee drunk in this sitting, Emile said I was shouting at anything with wheels. “Trolley man! Why one upside-down on top of trolley? Gravity change?” Also, there was a bike across the street with a pineapple on the handlebars. We decided like a bell but full of lemon juice that would squirt the rider in the eyes. “Oooo! Self Sabotage!“ Also, many boxer engines going braaap, just for me. Also, Old woman all dressed in white, white hair, driving an Italian Red, Fiat 500 Abarth, peeling off from the corner. Five coffees. Is too many?
The café we sat at where Fuck.Dog happened. The same metal benches. The same Jo Lloyd and Frances d’Ath. Somewhat older.
The bridge is an endless, low serpent stepping across the marshland. I took Onyx’ bike and rode back to Scienceworks, to the long bluestone wall on the side of the Yarra. I haven’t climbed bluestone in ten years. Fingers and body remember but cannot. I walk from one end to the other and back, more than 100 metres of hard climbing in both directions, feeling the rock with fingertips and toes. I remember when I first started climbing the railway bridges in Balaclava, East St. Kilda, it took me months to be able to string together one traverse, months more to reverse it, months again to do the other side of the road. This is the same, but harder.
Climbing walls to get at science. Climbing walls around the back when there’s a locked gate up the front side. Climbing walls “like, it’s literally a metaphor, lol.” In the end, I find the first several moves. Still more than 100 metres to go.