Winter of 2015
We had come to Clunes, with its massively wide main street (where scenes from Mad Max were filmed) in 2010, during the town’s famous Book Fair. There P listened to an entertaining talk by Malcolm Fraser, launching his political Memoirs, and had a copy signed by the former PM along with co-author Margaret Symons. (Had there been a follow up to this launch, The Varnished Culture might have asked whether vast tracts of the work might better be classified as fiction, but no matter.)
On a wintry Monday, The Varnished Culture returned to this charming hamlet, overlooking the fact that the region tends to hibernate in mid winter (or migrate to the log fires, swanky restaurants and bubbling spas of nearby Daylesford, its Victorian Capistrano). At least, so we assume. We had also forgotten that Monday is the traditional ‘down day’ for bookshops, who usually open through the weekend in order to pay the rent. But this was ‘Booktown’, right? Where the bookshops never sleep….
However, we didn’t expect the whole town to be closed, in a mocking, almost sinister fashion, challenging and subverting the innocent visitor with its silence, reminiscent of a story by Ray Bradbury or John Wyndham.
There were some signs of life…an elderly gentleman made his stately way along the broad street with his pooch and then turned, as if to a martinet’s beat, and went back the same way. There appeared to be a dim light on at the Cop Shop and there was a cop car in the drive.
But all the bookshops were closed. The Vulture Culture likes to buy an absurd number of second hand books when on leave, so some traders missed a trick. The Post Office was closed. As far as we could tell, the Town Hall was closed. All the shops were closed. Many had signs in their windows, warning of a power cut due for Tuesday(?), saying they would be closed. But we were, like the LRB song, ‘home on a Monday…’ and who was talking to us? None in the front bar – the pub was closed! Could P at least get a beer at the RSL? That was also closed.
The Eberhard cordial factory may have been open but we didn’t care. Two cafes were open. We picked the wrong one, “Widow Twanky’s”. With our non alcoholic libations, sitting in the sunless and charmless sun room at the back, we chose lasagne as safe and warm. How wrong can one be? (This establishment has numerous positive reviews on Trip Advisor, so we can charitably chalk it up as an off-day, emblematic, perhaps, of the whole town.)
The “Lasagne” was meatless, yet chewy; chewy, yet slushy; lacking béchamel, yet clotted and it had an alien, clove-like, bitter taste that lingered on the tongue like napalm, a totally repugnant repast that came back to haunt us an hour or two later, but by then, we were well clear of Clunes. A charming town surrounded by very pretty country, but boy – did we catch it on an off day!!