xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: A walk on the riled side

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

A walk on the riled side

Left, right, left, right, left, right, geddouddarmeway!
It used to be a particular pleasure of mine to walk the streets of Perth. At the outset I hasten to point out that walking the streets is not same, in any way, shape or form as streetwalking.
Streetwalking, is of course the practice employed by “Ladies of the night” as they ply their trade. I was first acquainted with the term streetwalking by my cousins, Maurie and Raymond Carr, when I was about ten years old. It was the time of the 1948 London Olympics and Maurie told me that the Italian woman swimming in the 100 metres freestyle used to be a street walker in Venice. When I did not laugh Maurie had to explain what a streetwalker was. It took me two years to work out that he was joking.

I have been walking the streets of Perth since I was about four or five years old, when my mother used to take me with her on shopping trips. In those days there were no large suburban shopping centres and so most Perth people went in to town on the tram, train or trolley bus to shop at Boan’s, Bon Marche, Ahern’s, Sandover's, Walsh’s or Charles Moore’s.

These walks with my mother were often quite slow and ponderous. As she made her way down Hay St. or Murray St. she would stop every five minutes to chat with somebody she knew. When I asked her later she would tell me it was somebody she knew on the Fields.

You see my mother was born in Boulder and lived on the goldfields, until she came to Perth when she was about sixteen. My Dad was born on the goldfields, too. Though they did not meet till they were in Perth, they often spoke of life on the goldfields. I had seen picture books of fields that were green, full of fluffy white sheep with blue skies above. My five-year-old mind imagined my Mum and Dad running around  fields of brilliant gold, glistening and gleaming in the sunshine.

When I was about nine years old I started walking the streets of Perth almost every day. My aunty May had a lottery kiosk at 119 Barrack Street. After school I would catch the tram into Perth, and go to the Lucky Bunny Lottery Kiosk. At about 4-30pm my aunt would give me a calico bag filled with cash and lottery ticket butts.

My job was to get the calico bag and its contents to the Lotteries Commission office next to Newspaper House in St George’s Terrace. I am not sure how much money I carried but Aunty May told me to go to the Lotteries Commission office by a different route each day. I had about six different ways of getting to the Lotteries Commission and I was never held up once. Not by bandits, not by kidnappers and not by the crowds thronging the streets and arcades. Everyone kept to the left and I raced past them pretending to be a nippy East Perth rover or else a daring rider on the Pony Express. Aunty May paid me five shillings a week.

Today, any parent sending a nine-year boy through the streets of Perth with a small fortune in a calico bag would probably be charged with neglect or child abuse or some such thing. But the late 1940s was a different time and nobody thought it strange. In fact, everyone seemed to think it was doing me good. Making me resourceful, confident and independent. I certainly appreciated the five shillings each week.

Even though Perth’s population was only about 300 000 in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the footpaths were more crowded then than they are today. This is due the fact that the footpaths were narrower then and most people today shop in suburban shopping malls. However, despite the dense pedestrian traffic, people in the 1950s moved quite freely because everyone kept to the left side of the footpath. They did this because that was the long established etiquette in Perth for walking in public and also because the Perth City Council painted yellow signs on paving slabs along the way saying, “Please keep left”.

Sadly, this is not the case in the present day. It is said that nearly two thirds of people walking the streets of Perth today were not born in Perth. Many of them have come from interstate and quite large numbers have come from overseas, either as migrants or travellers just passing through. This means that only about one third of the people walking the streets of Perth today share the cultural heritage of keeping to the left on footpaths.

Many of today’s pedestrians come from countries where it is normal to keep to the right when walking and they continue to do so when they walk around Perth. Others are that busy eating, drinking coffee or looking down and texting on their iPhone that they just walk wherever they choose.

I have often been walking when a texting and “not looking where they are going” pedestrian walked directly into my "keep to the left" direction of travel. At first I used to step around these people, but then I used to just stand still and let them walk into me. Usually, they pulled up just centimetres from a collision, changed course and continued blindly on their way. No apologies.

But now a new hazard has hit the streets. These are the Pokémon fanatics who walk along using their phone or iPad as their only navigational aid. Standing still in front of these Pokemaniacs is courting disaster. So removed from reality are they, so oblivious of the real world, they will plough right into you causing physical discomfort. I have now devised a new strategy for dealing with the Pokemaniacs.

I stride boldly towards them in the military style I perfected during my National Service in the Third Field Regiment of the Royal Australian Artillery. Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, Geddouddarmeway!

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