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I’ll be honest with you, when my sister Bridget invited me to the opening of her next exhibition at her Carlton gallery

Bridget McDonnell Gallery Carlton

I was pleased to be able to go. Living nearly an hour away, I rarely get to her openings, but this time I had an excuse, Mum needed a lift home from staying with my sister in Kyneton and the gallery was half way. Then, when my new you-beaut, whiz-bang Apple Macbook Pro died and was in need of fast action, it gave me the chance to call into the Chadstone Apple Store and get it fixed on the way.

I was more than a little perturbed by the flashing question mark on the white screen when I tried to log on. I’d only had the laptop a month – the result of a hasty purchase after my trusty old PC laptop was stolen from my car and I lost two years’ work. I had started afresh with the new laptop, and made the switch to Apple at Bridget’s recommendation and to think that I might have lost it all again was a little upsetting.

I had seen the Chadstone Apple Store before.

I looked on in amazement at the shop that was always buzzing with activity. Now it was my turn to partake of the buzz and get my product fixed.

The buzzing Apple Store Chadstone. Photo taken at the grand opening by jimcwang.

After getting the attention of one of the many blue Smurf look-a-like attendants (in their electric blue tee-shirts) they had a look at my problem and quickly realised that it was not a quick fix – I needed the Genius Bar! Sounded good to me.

The Genius Bar. Photo taken by griffmiester

I have always had a lot of respect for geniuses. I understood the concept of genius -forward thinking individuals who change the course of society and history; who make an impact of the world; whose imprint on the world is felt by people universally. We all know them. Albert Einstein and his theory of relativity,

Professor Albert Einstein gave us the most recognised formula in the world – E=MC2.

Madame Curie who discovered radium, and changed the course of physics and science and of course, Alexander Fleming who discovered penicillin. My genius, Duncan, seemed a little young to me, but what did I to know. Duncan ran some diagnostics on my sad looking machine, he even brought in the Lion! I couldn’t imagine how a lion could help at a time like this, but Duncan assured me that the lion was serious. It was the whole operating system or something. Duncan explained to me that all the components of the macs were named after cats. Someone in there has a cat fetish, so you find the jaguar, panther, snow leopard etc. I’m ok with that. If he’s bringing in the lion – he is the king of the jungle after all. I saw the Lion King too.

With the lion on the job, and two subsequent external operating systems, my genius could get no joy from that flashing question mark, and he realised that it required more than a mere genius. I couldn’t imagine what that might be, so I very sadly said good bye to my laptop and sent it to life-support, Apple-style where it may or may not return to me in about three to five days, with all it’s memory intact, or scrubbed. When I asked about my Total Care – where for an extra $300 I was told at the Apple outlet I bought it from that I could get my laptop fixed or replaced immediately anywhere on the globe should I suffer a problem, because, “At Apple we like to keep our customers doing what they do best, working” or words to that effect.

Duncan informed me that maybe I had been a little oversold on that deal at the store I’d bought it from! – read the fine print.

So it was with a heavy heart that I headed off to the gallery a little early. I found myself driving almost past a very dear, yet elusive friend, so in need of a little bolstering, I tried her number, expecting her to answer from Bali, Brisbane, or anywhere in between. Surprise, surprise she was home but about to go out to help her elderly parents. She’d love me to stop by for a cup of tea. I met Sandy while studying screenwriting at RMIT about 15 years ago and I liked her from the moment we met. We were sitting in a writing comedy class, in which as usual students introduce themselves as a sort of orientation for everyone. When the introductions got to Sandy, I was across the other side of the room trying to workout what I should say about myself, the list was long and quite uninteresting no matter what turn I took. While I was mentally discounting options in my head, Sandy introduced herself as Alex. She said more but I wasn’t paying much attention. Then about four people later, Sandy piped up again and, interrupting the student telling their little life story, said, “Oh, excuse me, can I be Sandy instead?”

Well any thought of my list vanished. I thought that was the funniest thing. Here was a woman in her 30s who hadn’t worked out her own name!

Having come from a large family, where mum never remembered our name and would run off the list when she was calling us, knowing she would eventually say the right one, we invariably would answer to any. But to have met another person with a name dilemma was astonishing. And hers was far better than mine. She explained to the class that while Alexandra was her name, she used to go by Alex, but now she wanted to be Sandy.

On the next break in the class I made a beeline for her and introduced myself and we have been friends ever since.

As we have toiled in our writing over the years we have remained friends.

Sandy is now a playwright and director making a name for herself in the difficult world of theatre, while I had slammed the drawer shut on my ever growing pile of feature film scripts and returned to working as a journalist after Film Victoria told me some years ago, that despite getting grants and support from them in the past; despite a Hollywood studio being interested in a project and getting Al Pacino to read it, I didn’t qualify to apply.

If no one is interested in my scripts why should I waste my time?

The tea was great. We tend to both talk at 100 miles an hour. On this occasion I was berating my foray into the world of Apple and telling her about my recent diagnosis with fructose and lactose intolerance, while she denigrated my diagnosis as the latest fad, while on the phone trying to organize her mother’s dinner. During this she was lamenting her inability to buy a ticket to a show in Melbourne.

“It’s his last Melbourne performance. And this is his hometown! It’s a tragedy!” She was saying. Suddenly I was listening.

“Barry Humphries? I asked.

“Yes,” she spat out like it was my fault. “I rang Ticketek to book for Saturday night and they were sold out. Actually they told me they were ‘Exhausted!’ Can you believe it?”

Barry Humphries’ Eat Pray Laugh farewell performance

I told her about the exhibition I was going to and suggested she come along, as Mr Humphries was supposed to be attending.

She was actually silent for the first time since I’d arrived. She looked at me horrified. “Tonight? Why didn’t you tell me earlier? … I can’t.”

So off I went. Late. Sure that if the world famous, Mr Humphries aka Dame Edna Everage,

Barry Humphries as Dame Edna Everege. Picture taken by the Sydney Morning Herald.

Sir Les Patterson etc did attend the opening, he would have left so quickly I would have missed him by now, anyway.

I waltzed in, enjoying my day (Apple not withstanding) and after pouring a glass of wine, about to greet some family and acquaintances, there was the colourful, the dynamic, the larger than life Mr Barry Humphries himself.

While not a huge fan of meeting celebrities I have always been very impressed with talent. And Mr Humphries is probably one of our most celebrated writers and performers internationally. I remember reading a long time ago how, as a uni student, he got on the train at the end of the line dressed in his pyjamas and, as the train made its way to the city, he slowly dressed, took out a boiled egg and ate it for his breakfast, shaved and went through the morning ablutions, all the while interested in how people would react to this.

It was like mobile theatre.

He was always ahead of his time, his ability to hold a mirror up to society and show us for who we are in such a humorous way, we can’t help but to laugh at our pretensions. Sir Les Patterson the cultural attaché to St James Court, who would make us die with embarrassment if he were true, but look around us. In the latest performance he’s retired of course and become a MasterChef – well isn’t everyone? Every television station is sporting one.

Barry Humphries with Mum.

I was a little shocked he was here and I would actually get to meet him. Dressed in a deep red corduroy suit with a black overcoat, a red scarf and sporting a Fedora hat, he was chatting to my sister and mother. I pulled out my phone and snapped some photos.

My sister Bridget introduced me to Mr Humphries and his friend, the photographer Jane Burton. I don’t know what I said, but at that moment a throng of people wishing to speak to Mr Humphries engulfed me so I side stepped the crowd and moved on. I started talking to Peter Trusler, a bird artist I met at Bridget’s gallery many years ago.

The great thing about the gallery openings is, not only does Bridget present a diverse range of outstanding artworks, but she always manages to attract an interesting crowd.

I have written a number of newspaper articles on people I have met at her openings.

I did an article on a Melbourne Symphony Orchestra double bass player, Michelle Picker, who was on tour with Elton John. A behind the scenes look at touring with the English star.

I had also done an article on Peter when he was working on a project with the New Zealand government to recreate what a prehistoric flight-less bird, the Moa bird, would have looked like.

Bridget with Peter Trusler.

While his subject matter is far broader that that, to me he is the bird artist.

Bridget’s husband John Timlin was talking to a man I have seen regularly at the openings, but had never had the chance to say more than hello to. They were also keeping well away from the crowd.

John introduced his friend, an obstetrician. I started telling him about a lovely book I had just read that was written by a doctor. I’d discovered the book in an op shop. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Vesnigse – I attempted the pronunciation.

“Abraham Verghese – that was very well reviewed,” he said.

I then told him about the previous book I had bought in an op shop once again jumping off the shelves demanding I buy it. Laughter, Sex, Vegetables and Fish by Dr John Tickell. He also knew this author. “He played football for Hawthorn,” he informed me. That’s the one.

“I see him at the races,” he said.

This was extraordinary. He was familiar with both books I had enjoyed recently.

Just then Barry had wandered away from the throng to look at the exhibition.

The obstetrician with Mr Humphries.

Somehow he, Bridget, and Jane had joined us. I asked Barry if I could have my photo taken with him and if the obstetrician could, too. He was so charming and obliging.

Then Jane asked Bridget if she had rung for the taxi yet. Bridget was on the phone immediately.

“Where do you need to go? I can take you,” I said.

“You wouldn’t mind?”

Would I mind? “I have to apologise for my car. I live on a dirt road so it’s always dirty.”

“Where do you live?” Mr Humphries asked.

“Langwarrin South.”

“I love Langwarrin.” He said.

As I drove them to the city for dinner and he was lamenting the architectural demise of the city, we were passing Her Majesty’s Theatre (where his show is on).

“I hear that’s very good,” he said with twinkle in his eye.

“I can assure you, you won’t get a ticket for love or money!” I said.

“Music to a performer’s ear!” he smiled.

Well, I actually managed to meet a genius today, but it wasn’t at the Apple bar.

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