Dirty Old Fitzroy – by Andrew Bairn

I lived above a florist on Smith Street for over 15 years. The rent was very reasonable.

It was a small, bright, open studio apartment and always smelt beautiful, due to said florist located below.

When I opened my front door – in fact it was the only door, and bright red – quite often I’d immediately be greeted by a Safeway truck attempting to run me over. In hindsight perhaps they were just trying to park and unload, and not attempting a hit and run.

I would often walk past the latest trendy George Colombaris restaurant, very handily located next door to my apartment. But I never went in, as it was too cool (and expensive) for the likes of me.

Further on down a side street, paved in old bluestone cobbles, I’d pass a few very old, small workers’ cottages. They looked almost too picturesque, unreal, next to all the brand new apartments for rent.

The rubbish bins were always overflowing with debris discarded throughout the day by visitors, tourists and residents alike.

Dirty old Fitzroy: I always felt right at home there.

Diagonally across the road from the grand Fitzroy Town Hall (just next to the police station, for those in the know), I would finally arrive at my destination, the Napier Hotel.

Regrettably for me, visiting the pub was not for fun or recreation. I’d be arriving for my shift at work, washing dishes. Helping to clean up a very small part of dirty old Fitzroy.

The kitchen crew was only the three people, very small for such a busy pub restaurant. The head chef would create delicious meals with the assistance of his second chef, who would finish off the dishes to the required level, then send them out, meal after meal after meal.

An avalanche of dirty pots and pans, dishes and cutlery always greeted me at the sink when I arrived at work. This would be perpetually topped up by the wait staff throughout my nine-hour shift.

At 11pm the head chef would declare to all the staff, and indeed the entire world, “kitchen closed!” Under my breath I’d always murmur “thank Christ”. The kitchen crew would then step up the pace to clean down every surface. It was remarkable how the hardest part of everyone’s shift was right towards the end: one solid hour of cleaning up.

After mopping the kitchen floor, I’d always be the last to join the other staff in the bar. Exhausted, I would savour my emergency knock-off beer, then say my farewells and head home.

Now well after midnight, there were still crowds of people out on the streets of Fitzroy, looking for more fun to be had.

Finally I’d reach my bright red front door. Walking up my stairs I’d be greeted with wafts of jasmine, jonquils and freesias from the florist below.

At this point I’d often realise that I stank of sweat and food, and that my clothes were filthy, covered in all sorts of stains. I’d chuckle to myself, knowing I belonged here: dirty old Andrew, in dirty old Fitzroy.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash.

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