You don't have to mentally unstable to live here, but it helps...

Day 380 - Margaret River

It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair.

It was a Tuesday, it was like any other. Me and the Cornish lads had slogged through another day on the vineyard and were driving home. I switched on my phone to check messages, my housemate Emily had text

"All our stuff's on the street. Martina showdown."
It had been building to this but with 3 days left before we left Margaret River she'd actually done it. Perhaps I should recap?

The housing situation at Tunbridge Street had been deteriorating since, well, since I moved in really. I'd have to say that this was in spite of rather than because of my presence. I hadn't met the landlady before I took the room so my first contact with Martina was after work one day. Walking down the drive, she was stood on the roof of the house with a hosepipe.
"You must be Ben?"
"Yes, hi."
"You're better looking than the Irish boys."
"Er, ok, bye!"
I'd been warned she was mildly quirky but this was just the tip of an eccentric iceberg. Martina was on the property a lot, always unannounced, always eager to disparage my housemates to me, 'the only one [of us] she could talk to.' There were a couple of ongoing disputes I had walked into about damage to the property and the need for professional cleaners to come in, I steered clear of these subjects as much as possible and when I couldn't I attempted to mollify and cajole her into reason. I thought I was fighting a winning battle or at least promoting a civil peace that would hold until we vacated. But her general annoyance was twisting into a burning indignation at our 'behavior', it was fomenting into a bilious outrage at our occupation of her house. Most of all she was affronted by the general wantonness of our collective character and our propensity to 'lie' and 'steal'. One sunny day a notice was posted on the door outlining the many and varied ways we had broken the adjacently affixed contract and informing us the 2 month lease (crudely amended from 3) on said contract meant we would have to leave the place immediately, and preferably sooner. Given that there was still 3 weeks until we departed having to find new accommodation now would be an inconvenience none of us needed. James, Rob and Tash presciently chose not long after this point at which to continue their lives on the east coast of Oz leaving myself, Emily, Bryan and Tully with the wicked witch of the west. Another departure was that of Frodo the sheep. He had been removed to pastures new owing to the fact we had attempted to extinguish a cigarette on him. None of us recalled doing this (or made a habit of torturing animals) but Martina was adamant. As I was the only resident she deigned to communicate with it fell on me to negotiate our stay and the admission of new occupants to cover the rent of those leaving. She ranted, she raved, she slandered. With tongue clamped firmly between teeth I nodded and attempted to explain the merits of our continued rental. And...amazingly, she assented to all my wishes (barring the unstated one to have herself sectioned under the mental health act).
"no wonder europe is in a crisis. the future doesn't look good for it either if all it's occupants are like you lot."
The peace accord had lasted a week. We had politely cited contract law and declined to pay extra rent for the remainder of our time there.
"stop acting the bully boy with your crim mate who you boogie with coz she gets you the jobs."
The 'crim mate' referred to was Emily whom Martina was convinced had tried to steal our rent. The 'jobs' were vineyard work that Emily apparently booked for me despite the complication of us being at different agencies. The slightly unhinged missive was from a woman (Martina) who claimed to be a qualified lawyer. This same woman also claimed to be a Buddhist, indeed when Bryan was rushed to hospital with a serious heart condition she attributed it to karma, well he did owe her $20 in rent I suppose. By this time we had persuaded 2 new people to move in. Wayne was a South African and Oliver was from Montreal in Canada. Perhaps we should have given them more warning about the acid-tinged miasma into which they were entering? Well Wayne had met Martina, Oli was Wayne's friend and we needed the money, my conscience is fairly clear. Indeed, who were we to deny them special memories to put in the 'you'll-look-back-and-laugh' category or madcap stories without the slightest need for embellishment. It wasn't long before I had lost my role as mediator by taking Emily's side in another of Martina's accusatory rants joining the rest of the "selfish", "bothersome", "unruly", "immature", "renegging" [sic], "dishonest", "disrespectful", "stupid", "druggie" residents of Tunbridge Street. There would be no talking her round now.
"Pls vk8 property asap. Thrz 2 much damage dun. M."
She repeatedly asked us to leave, we stubbornly stayed and as our final week approached everything had gone quiet, ominously so. Did we assume she had finally accepted our ongoing presence? Did we think reason had prevailed and Martina had decided it wasn't worth the fight given our impending departure? Did we truly believe we had won the battle of wills? Folly! Like a whispered curse uttered by maddened tongue a shadow fell over the house...

Saturday, 6 days to go, the lights went out.
Calls, texts and emails to our suddenly absent landlady went answered, our pleas to fix the electricity unheeded. As the sun's illumination was swallowed by the horizon we ate steak by candlelight and wearily laughed at our plight in a show of blitz spirit.

Sunday, 5 days to endure, the gas stopped working.
At least as we stumbled around in the darkness we could locate each other by our unshowered odour (gas boiler) and the rumbling of stomachs empty of cooked food (gas oven).

Monday, 4 dark days remain, a response.
"whr r th circuit breakers n fuses frm meter box? M."
Despite repeated investigations of the box we hadn't clocked the absence of these vital components. Martina naturally attributed their loss to us or one of our unsavoury friends, which is logical...if you're Martina. No further action seemed forthcoming on her part so it looked like we'd see out our time in Margaret River in these debased conditions.

Tuesday afternoon, 3 days to basic amenities, back to the start of the tale.
Our possessions dumped unceremoniously in the verge, the house locked (we never had keys), Martina had gone nuclear. If there was one element of fortune in the situation it was that Emily was employed by Vinepower (a regional work agency) and her colleagues had kindly helped pack our stuff into various vehicles and transported it to the office. Mel, who would shortly be replacing Emily, was extraordinarily generous in offering to house myself, Em, Oli and his girlfriend Jenn who had unfortunately chosen this day to arrive in Margaret River. Without all this assistance our position would have been, to say the least, bad. Mel fed us, watered us, gave us a most comfortable port in a tumultuous storm. Once assorted belongings in assorted bags had been sifted through we found ourselves short a couple of laptops and a camera. A message arrived from our erstwhile landlady advising that these items had been kept as 'collateral' but could be retrieved with a payment of $800. Her actions to this point had fallen into the grey area of the law but this was outright theft and the police swiftly persuaded her of the wisdom in returning the items. She did, however, in the name of reciprocity demand we give back the plastic sheet she had kindly used to cover the ejected materials of our life. We kept it, ha! As if to cap these crazy days Martina also told Oli that it was her that had taken the fuses from the electricity box, words just fail me at this point.
And that, to the best of my memory, was that. Friday came and myself, Emily and Matt struck north for Perth, Oli and Jenn east to places unknown, Wayne was already in Bali and Bryan and Tully were staying in Margaret River a little longer. I never got to say goodbye to half the people I intended to but I certainly won't forget them. Nor, I commit, my time in Margs for those four and a half short months. That life lived between July 27th and December 14th 2013. I like to imagine it still going on there as if nothing had changed and we'd never left. As if I had a ribboned box, a grand doll's house I could peek into now and then and see all of us going about our day to day in the little town, our loves and adventures and minor tribulations, all carried along on wispy clouds as if nothing really mattered. It is fated, in time, to seem ever more a product of my imagination but I know at the instant of recollection my heart will throb a little and the reality of then will still sneak a nostalgic smile onto my face now. It was the best of times.

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