It was a day like any other day, only yesterday was my 63rd birthday so I could have expected perfection. On birthdays you ask your loving ones to reward you for having squirmed out of your mother’s uterus demanding air, food and attention, all at once.

My wife wished a happy birthday on me before the coffee was done brewing. My daughter left for work before we were up, but there was a lovely card on the dining room table. The natural health food food store remembered me.  Isn’t that something?

It wasn’t my birthday in North America yet, so I couldn’t expect friends and family there to adjust their mental calendars and send their wishes in advance, but I was a bit miffed all the same when my inbox turned up empty.

It was a year ago exactly that we moved into our digs here in Essendon. For a month or more I had my work cut out for me arranging furniture, hanging pictures and getting things put away, dealing with detritus, 62 years of accumulating stuff.

If you are distressed by mess and want to be able to find things again, then tidying up is a never-ending process. Last week I tackled the garage. Yesterday, the tiny, windowless office I call my own consumed much of the day.

It made me think of tidy towns. From what little I could find on the web, it seems to be a concept that originated in Ireland, but it has taken hold in small towns here in a big way. The very idea seems to contradict the notion I have of Australia as an outlaw, outback country where Mad Max is cruising along waiting for some evil creature to pop his head up.

To my way of thinking, tidy towns are imbued with artificiality, like Disneyland. But they seem to have taken off in the mother country as well.  The screenplay for “Hot Fuzz” took this idea and ran with it, to hilarious effect.

Seaside, Florida is a real town on the Gulf coast designed around the tidy town ideal. No one actually lives there. Each home is a summer getaway with an owner’s plaque on the outside indicating the family members, including pets, and where they live their “real” lives, when they are not in Seaside.

Every house looks like a bit of Cape Cod, glued into place around a perfect town green. The cobblestone streets add a nice touch. It was the location setting for Jim Carey’s wonderfully perverse “comedy”– “The Truman Show.”

The only part of my birthday that I had planned ahead of time was dinner with my wife and a friend down in St. Kilda and a evening with a fifty year-old lefty by the name of Billy Bragg.

Dinner was delightful. When we showed up for the show,however, a small sign indicated Billy would not be performing until 10:30. Most nights, that’s my bedtime.

He was the headliner so it was his prerogative, I suppose, but the tickets said 8 PM. We grumbled a bit. My wife had a busy day planned so she bailed out and caught the tram home. I’m not a great salesman, so I flogged her ticket for a fraction of its cost.  Geoff and I went inside. It was a ballroom. Pricey beer and no seats.

True to his word, Billy came on at 10:30. Fortunately, the two musical acts during the two and a half hours prior to his appearance were first rate. Billy sang some songs everyone knew as well as some new ones from an upcoming CD. He told some jokes and anecdotes and preached to the converted at some length toward the end of the set. He called us his brothers and sisters and urged us to be activists and not get cynical.

It wasn’t tidy, the perfect ending of a perfect day.  It wasn’t the Truman Show, but it wasn’t Hollywooden either. It was messy, uncomfortable and unexpected, just like real life.

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